By Paul Jones/Special to the Journal
STARKVILLE – As the region’s top seed, Tupelo naturally entered Tuesday’s Division 2-6A opener as a heavy favorite against fourth-seeded South Panola.
But Tupelo head coach Grant Pate shielded his squad from getting over confident and wanted them to focus simply on playing solid basketball.
The Golden Wave (26-3) did that and then some, rolling to a 71-47 victory to advance to Friday’s region title game. Tupelo will await the winner of Starkville and Columbus and aim for the right for a home playoff game next Tuesday.
“We tried to explain to them that there is no tomorrow,” said Pate. “We told them one of the two teams was going home and it couldn’t be us. We told them we needed to go out there with great intensity and our guys got out there and got after it.
“Anytime our press can get us going, that is what fuels our success.”
Tupelo used an aggressive full-court press to jump on the Tigers in the early going, and the Golden Wave never let up. The Golden Wave built a comfortable 44-15 advantage at halftime and led by as many as 37 points in the second half.
“We needed to give everybody a chance to play so they will be ready later on in the playoffs,” said senior Chris Brooks. “We are used to playing that type of press although we switched it up some tonight. But our press is a big deal for our success.”
Jordan Sadler had 12 points to pace a balanced Tupelo offensive attack while Deontaye Ewing added 11 points. Brooks and Josh Hamilton each added eight points for Tupelo.
South Panola (6-19) saw their season end and were led by Jakerion Ales’ game-high 20 points.
– (G) Tupelo 49, South Panola 44: The Lady Wave overcome a sloppy third quarter to rally against South Panola and punch their ticket to Friday’s region title game.
Tupelo outscored South Panola 16-6 in the final period to overcome a three-point showing in the third quarter
Chy Cunningham paced the Lady Wave with 11 points and Anetionette Riddle added 10.
– (G) Columbus 59, Starkville 56: The region’s top seed on the girls side converted 10-of-12 free throws in the final two minutes to thwart host Starkville’s upset attempt.