By Mike Talbert
JACKSON A technical foul called on center Bradley Prather late in the fourth quarter shot the Falkner Eagles out of the sky Tuesday night.
The Eagles had been matching the Mount Olive Pirates shot-for-shot and even withstanding a 3-point bombardment by Pirate reserve Tim Gray until then.
The technical sparked a 9-0 run that held up as Mount Olive won 72-63 in the boys Class 1A State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“We were just talking to each other like we had been all night, but I was the one caught,” Prather said. “I shouldn’t have been saying it.”
Prather led both teams with 17 rebounds to go with 15 points.
Even after the technical and Gray’s fifth 3-pointer in seven attempts, Mount Olive didn’t seal the game until Edward Prather, who led both teams with 22 points, missed three free throws on a three-shot foul.
The Pirates went up 66-55 with 3 minutes left and held off a Falkner rally that cut the lead to 66-63 with 50 seconds left.
“Then we started trying to force shots,” guard Isaiah Simmons said.
The Pirates (33-2) advance to the Class 1A championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday against the winner of today’s 3 p.m. Biggersville-West Lincoln game.
While the late action decided the game, Falkner struggled in other areas of the game that cost it several chances to pull away from the Pirates earlier. The Eagles were 1-for-13 from 3-point range and only 10-of-25 from the line.
“We just couldn’t get rolling like we usually do,” Simmons said, “and they could really shoot from the perimeter.”
Toby Hodges and Aaron Duckworth joined Gray with 15 points for the Pirates and Hashunie Hayes added 13.
Falkner, which ends its season 22-10 after bouncing back from a 5-7 start, had a 10-point run at the end of the first period to force the second of seven lead changes. Edward Prather hit a pair of free throws to put the Eagles up 22-19 with 6:32 left in the half only to have Derrick Jones tie the game on a 3-pointer. There were also seven ties in the game, including 29-29 at the half.
The Eagles led most of the third period, even though Simmons had to miss most of it after picking up his fourth foul just 38 seconds into the half.
Falkner coach Tim Leatherwood was able to see some positives in the game.
“We hustled, we played hard. We were very much in the game,” he said. “They aren’t considered the top team in Class 1A for nothing.
“It will take our kids a day or two to get over it, but they will remember that they played in a great game.”