By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
SOUTHAVEN – Grant Pate’s message to his Tupelo Golden Wave following Friday’s 67-44 victory over Clinton in the 6A North Mississippi Tournament semifinals was a simple one.
“That was huge,” he said in the dressing room at DeSoto Central High School gym. “We’re going to Jackson.”
No Tupelo boys basketball coach has said those last four words to his team in 13 years.
Behind a 20-point scoring effort from point guard Rashon Coleman and a 14-rebound performance from forward Josh Hamilton, the Golden Wave punched its first ticket to the Big House since the 1998-99 season.
Tupelo (24-8) plays Jackson Jim Hill, a 45-36 winner over DeSoto Central, at 7 p.m. today in the North championship game. The winner advances to Jackson as the No. 1 seed and the loser as the No. 2 seed.
“We’ve worked hard every day in practice to get to this point,” said Coleman, who sank four 3-pointers and helped the Wave pulled away down the stretch. “I thought we stayed focused tonight and we played hard.”
Coleman and many of his teammates played in last season’s loss to Vicksburg in the North semifinals.
“A lot of our kids went through that last year and it hurt,” Pate said. “This is a tribute to our guys and their commitment and understanding of what we need to do.”
The two teams battled to a 23-23 tie in the first half, before Tupelo attacked in the final 16 minutes with its defensive pressure and dominated the offensive and defensive boards.
“We pressured the ball more in the second half,” Pate said. “That’s what we do, we use our pressure and our athleticism.”
Hamilton’s baseline drive and dunk gave the Wave a 30-27 lead with 2 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third period. From that point, Tupelo outscored the Arrows 37-17.
“We started out slow, but we came out in the second half playing hard,” said Hamilton, who scored 10 points. “This is big for Tupelo. We haven’t been to Jackson in a long time.”
For Tupelo, forward Jordan Sadler added 13 points and was a force inside the paint. Dajon Reno scored all 11 of his points in the second half while Chaz Jones had 9 points.