By Brandon Speck/Monroe Journal
JACKSON – Not even Booneville’s students went to the MHSAA Class 3A North Tournament to see the Blue Devils begin a five-game run through a championship gauntlet.
But those same students who went to see how many points Cleveland East Side McDonald’s All-American Johnny O’Bryant would put up on the Blue Devils on Feb. 17 were still cheering Thursday at the Mississippi Coliseum as Booneville hoisted the 3A state championship trophy.
Unassuming Booneville (28-7) closed the season on a six-game winning streak, capped by a 60-55 win against Division 1-3A rival and Northeast Mississippi neighbor Corinth to capture the Prentiss County school’s first title since 1963 and its fourth overall.
“Emotionally I can’t explain it because I don’t know if we ever knew we’d have this opportunity,” sixth-year Booneville coach Michael Smith said. “We did run through the gauntlet. They kind of won every game the same way, hung around for a while, then at some point really got to executing and making a run.”
In front of a rowdy 4,400 blue and red-clad fans, many of whom were two hours early, Booneville erased Corinth’s 25-15 lead, cutting it to 29-24 by the half. Within a point in the third, Booneville missed a chance to go ahead and saw Corinth senior Deonta Herman, a Jackson State-signee, drain a long 3-pointer for a 37-33 lead.
Herman scored 12 points, one of four Warriors with double figures. Deione Weeks had 15, Roderick Gaines 13 and Steven Polk 11.
Booneville tied it at 37 on Shaquille Prather’s free throw and trailed 42-41 thanks to Herman’s last two points of the third.
After three lead changes opened the fourth, Booneville eased ahead 48-44 but Herman’s steal and two and Eric Richardson’s steal and two tied the game at 48.
Two Keldrick Lesley free throws later and Booneville never trailed again. Darius Leach hit a leaner in the lane for a 52-48 lead. Tre Welch then hit 1 of 2 from the line.
Lesley had a game-high 19 points. Welch and Leach had 16 each.
“We got beat over and over again to the hole. That’s going to come back and bite you,” said Corinth coach Keith Greene. “We panicked too early.”
Going for its first title since 2002, Corinth (30-5) got within 54-51 on Polk’s three-point play, but Prather’s bucket made it 56-51 after Herman missed the goal with a 3 after a Booneville turnover.
“Our shot selection was not very good,” Greene said. “We made bad decisions and took poor shots.”
Corinth misfired on several late, quick shots on late trips. The Warriors ended up 3 of 23, 13 percent, from behind the arc. Booneville shot only five 3s, both makes from Lesley. Booneville shot 58.3 percent for the game, Corinth 33.3.
Booneville beat Corinth for the second straight time this season, including the North finals, after three straight losses.
“We weren’t going to be just content to go,” said Smith, who brought all 20 guys on the roster to the postgame press conference. “This is a special opportunity. Our town has been crazy. Our school has been crazy and these kids have handled it so well.
“That’s probably the most impressive thing, how they’ve handled this run and not got the big head and not got complacent. They’ve been unbelievable.”