By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – The Bruce High boys basketball coaching staff wasn’t sure how their team would handle playing in a state semifinals game at the Mississippi Coliseum.
It’s been 20 years since the Trojans last played in a state tournament game in Jackson. Their last tourney appearance in the Capitol City was a 67-65 loss to Stone County in the MHSAA Class 3A 1991 state title game.
Needless to say, the Bruce players put their coaches’ concerns to rest. Behind Jarvis Tillman’s 19 points and his brother Devin’s 14, the Trojans (21-6) held on for a 61-54 MHSAA Class 2A semifinals victory over Richton (23-10).
“I think our focus has been really good all week long,” said Bruce assistant Seth Burt. “Before the game, all day long today, it seemed like we were ready to play.
“I guess it’s more of a sense of relief to know that that we’ll be playing for a state championship right now.”
The Trojans will play Piney Woods, a 78-61 winner over Calhoun City in Friday afternoon’s state championship game at the Coliseum.
Head coach Davin Young can give some credit to Calhoun City – a team that has beaten the Trojans three out of five times this season – for instilling the poise and perseverance it takes to advance to the state finals.
“I guess that team has trained us well for that,” said the first-year boys coach, who has also been coaching the Lady Trojans for six seasons. “We’ve played them enough times and I guess they taught us how to persevere, for sure, against the runs and big shots and things like that, to go ahead and play through it and fight for it.”
The Trojans certainly had to withstand several furious rallies by Richton in Saturday’s semifinal.
The North Tournament champions led 14-6 in the first quarter before the Rebels responded with a 9-3 run to go up 15-14 with 2:25 remaining in the quarter.
Jarvis Tillman, who shot 8 of 14 from the floor Saturday, made two free throws and banked in a 3 just as he crossed over half court to give his team a 19-15 advantage at the end of the first eight minutes.
The Trojans’ largest lead in the first half was nine, at 26-17, less than three minutes into the second quarter, but that didn’t last long, either. Bruce held on for a 28-25 lead by the intermission.
“The shots were certainly following for us, which are always a good thing,” said Burt, whose team made 4 of its 6 3s on the day in the first half, “but we know our strength is getting the ball inside to our big guys (Devin and Jarvis Tillman) and letting them go to work.
“We knew we couldn’t rely on outside shots the entire game and we knew our post guys did a good job of working hard for position and going to work down there for us.”
The Trojans increased its lead to seven points on four different occasions in the second half, but couldn’t add to it.
Then, after a J.J. Bolton (game-high 31 points) layup brought the Rebels to within two, at 52-50, with 2:33 left, Bruce would end things on an 11-4 run.
The Trojans shot close to 64 percent from the field in the second half, and Donta Armstrong (10 points) added a key steal and layup during that final stretch.