By D.E. Wheeler
The Tupelo Golden Wave basketball team picked a good week to play two of its best halves of basketball for the 1995-96 season tournament time.
The Wave produced its second big first half of the week, then held off a comeback by the No. 1-seeded Starkville Yellow Jackets Friday to win the Division 2-5A championship 86-74.
The win means that the Wave (16-14) will host a first round Class 5A North Mississippi game Tuesday against the loser of Horn Lake-Clarksdale from Division 1. Starkville (19-10) will play at the Division 1 winner.
“We like to run, but with Starkville’s tremendous athletes and players, we were just trying to keep them in front of us tonight,” Tupelo coach Lee Stratton said. “And you know, we’re not going to keep increasing our lead against a team like them.”
For most of the first half, Tupelo was increasing its lead, moving to a 44-27 margin by halftime. But in the second half, Starkville which routinely plays all 15 of its players started coming at Tupelo in waves.
The Yellow Jackets made their first dent in the Tupelo lead early in the third quarter as Dennis Williams’ rebound and put-back cut the Wave lead to 48-35 with 4:50 left. But John Bradley fought for a couple of baskets and Chris Owens’ tip pushed Tupelo back up 57-38.
Starkville kept fighting, and finished the third period with an 8-2 run that cut the margin to 63-51. Mel McElroy’s 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter gave the Wave a brief cushion at 67-51, but the Jackets kept coming.
With 3:38 to play, Starkville finally cut the Tupelo lead under 10 points at 76-68 on Melvin Brown’s rebound and layup. Willie Poster halted the Jackets’ comeback with a driving layup, then two Chris Owens layups when Tupelo beat the Starkville press put the Wave up 82-70 with less than two minutes to play.
Coming off the bench for this game, John Bradley scored 20 points and Poster 12, with McElroy adding 14. Brown led Starkville with 13 and Maudeo Duck added 12.
“I didn’t want to do it for a big game, but I decided to do the right thing and start some guys for doing the right thing,” Stratton said of an unusual starting lineup that included sophomore Darrell Traylor and freshman Carlyn Sherer.
With the unusual starting five, Tupelo moved to a 9-6 lead as Traylor scored four of his nine points. Then the regular starters came in and the Wave increased its margin to 26-11 at the end of the period and 44-27 at the half.
(G) Starkville 65, Grenada 54: Ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press, the Lady Yellow Jackets (19-5) led 32-30 at the half and 46-42 after the third quarter, finally put Grenada away in the fourth period.
Kenya Bibbs and Tammie Townsel led the Lady Jackets with 18 each while Erika Williamson paced the No. 6 Lady Chargers (24-5) with 24.