Gardner's late heroics power Okolona Chieftains to victory

By David Wheeler/NEMS Daily Journal

SHANNON – The Shannon Red Raiders were just kind of cruising along comfortably with the lead Friday – then D.J. Gardner happened.
The Okolona senior and Mississippi State signee torched the Raiders for 16 fourth-quarter points, 34 for the contest, to help the Chieftains to a 67-63 victory over their Highway 45 rival.
“The fourth quarter kind of heated up, and of course there was the shooting by Gardner,” Okolona coach Bobby Ford said. “He just picked us up and carried us.
“And the team picked up its defense in the second half. We were able to limited their easy baskets going to the bucket.”
Shannon (7-4) was leading 50-34 late in the third period following a pair of baskets by Jamar Clifton. Then Gardner scored seven points in the last minute, including three free throws with no time left to pull Okolona (10-3) within 52-45.
That was only the tease for the final eight minutes.
Gardner stroked three 3-pointers in the first 78 seconds of the fourth quarter, the third tying the contest at 54-54. Baskets by Javon Green and Gary Copeland pushed Shannon back up 58-54 with 4 minutes, 50 seconds to play.
But finally, a Gardner 3-pointer with 2:56 left gave Okolona the lead for good at 63-60. The pace became patient in the last couple of minutes, with Gardner’s two free throws with eight seconds remaining icing the victory for the Chieftains.
“D.J. is all you have to say,” said Shannon coach Cedric Brim of Gardner, whose Raiders have only lost to Okolona, Aberdeen, and Tupelo thus far this season. “We played fairly well, we just didn’t play good transition defense in the fourth quarter.”
With a nicely balanced attack, Shannon moved to a 20-11 first quarter lead, and led 37-25 at the half.
Victor Cunningham added 14 and Dilian Blanchard 13 for Okolona, while Green paced Shannon with 16.
(G) Shannon 51, Okolona 46
The Lady Raiders picked up their first win of the season in a contest that was very close for the first three quarters.
Shannon held two-point leads at the half, and after the third quarter. Then in the fourth period, four points by Aushiana Ivy pushed the Lady Raiders margin up to 49-40 with 3:21 left.
Ivy was tops for Shannon with 24, while Okolona scoring machine Quinndella Ford managed a quiet 20 points.