Jefferson County area’s hottest team entering playoffs
Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 16, 2003
Is there a more dangerous team out there right now than Jefferson County’s boys?
Granted, it’s taken some time for everything to fall into place for the Tigers, but they timed it just right. They go into the playoffs this week playing their best ball of the season after hitting some big-time skids midway through the division.
The Tigers entered the tournament as a No. 5 seed but rolled through with three wins to go into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed out of Division 7. They will host West Lauderdale at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
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&uot;Anything is possible at this time of year,&uot; Jefferson County head coach Marcus Walton said. &uot;Basketball has been that way since the beginning of basketball. We’re just blessed and thankful God gave us this opportunity. The kids have decided to play hard and be disciplined on both ends of the court.
&uot;It (mid-season swoon) was a blessing in disguise. They’re realizing how much potential they have.&uot;
The turnaround is due mostly to the presence of standouts Joshfer Nichols, Dewones Smith and Juan Wyatt. Smith is what Walton considers a sleeper as far as the state’s top players, but more than anything the three have accepted their roles and formed the nucleus of the team.
&uot;It starts with our nucleus,&uot; Walton said. &uot;Dewones has taken a leadership role and is doing whatever it takes to move this team to the next level. I put some more responsibilities on Josh. They told me they were just not ready to end the season. It’s amazing how the kids have accepted it.&uot;
&uot;Without those three kids pulling together, we wouldn’t be where we are now &045; no ifs, ands or buts about it.&uot;
The Tigers finished 6-6 in division but have won seven of their last eight games, including Friday’s 59-41 whitewashing of Amite County for the championship. Tuesday’s game against West Lauderdale is a rematch of last year’s South State championship, a game the Tigers won before losing to Heidelberg in the semifinals at state.
&uot;This is going to be an interesting battle,&uot; Walton said. &uot;They’ve brought everything back from last year. They had a team full of juniors. Our size was a factor (last year). I think this year their tallest guy is 6-3 or 6-4. We’ll have to match their defensive intensity. That’s something we’ve been taking a lot of pride in the last couple of weeks.&uot;
UPSET SPECIALS &045;
The early dismissals of the Huntington and Jefferson County girls’ teams from the postseason just goes to show you that March Madness can come a couple weeks too soon.
A 23-6 fourth-quarter swing led to the Lady Tigers (18-8) exit in the semifinals of the division 7-3A tournament at the hands of Wilkinson County last Thursday, after receiving a bye as the No. 1 seed.
Jefferson County had beaten Wilkinson County twice during the regular season, but head coach Flora McKnight insists her Lady Tigers were not overlooking Wilkinson County for the South State playoffs. One win and Jefferson County was in.
&uot;We preach one game at a time and my players knew that if they lost they could turn in their suits to my office the next day,&uot; McKnight said. &uot;The team that listen won, that’s the bottom line. (Wilkinson County) outworked us.&uot;
NOT THIS TIME &045; Hillcrest Christian’s Cougars had to stay in a man-to-man Saturday against ACCS. Their half-court trap that gave the Rebels all sorts of fits the last time just didn’t work.
The Cougars unleashed it in the first half of Saturday’s Class AAA South State final, but the Rebels went to a spread offense and shook it off this time.
&uot;ACCS has a good team,&uot; Hillcrest head coach Penn Majors said. &uot;I think they’ll do well at the state tournament. Last time our half-court trap hurt them, but this time it didn’t. Give credit to them. Obviously they worked on it. We had to back out of it because it wasn’t working.&uot;
The Cougars brought the pressure in a different form Saturday, and it finally wore down on the Rebels late. But early on the Rebels battled both inside and outside and trailed by three at half before falling, 57-42.
&uot;We were ready for it,&uot; ACCS head coach Ricky Gray said. &uot;What hurt us tonight was their half-court man to man. The trap &045; we were ready for it. At this point you’ve got to go up a notch to compete because everybody is good. You’re talking about the best teams in our association. When you have a five-minute spurt where you don’t score, it’s tough.&uot;
The Rebels will enter the state tournament Tuesday to face Lee Academy of Clarksdale, the No. 3 seed from the North.
&uot;We’re trying to build on this,&uot; Gray said. &uot;We’ll take the positives from this and continue to work hard.&uot;
MAKING HISTORY &045; Despite their early exit at South State, the Huntington Hounds still made history this season after they finished second in MPSA District 7-1A.
The Hounds finished 14-13 overall, the first time in some 20 years they finished with an overall record of above .500.