By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
OKOLONA – To borrow from H.W. Byers coach Trey Lawrence, Myrtle made the shot that counted the most on Friday night.
Russ Yates came charging down the court and into the lane to grab the rebound off Nick Millsap’s miss from the far right corner and then put up a one-handed shot with his right hand while being hit. It went through the hoop at the buzzer to give him and his Hawks teammates a 69-68 come-from-behind victory over the Lions and their fifth trip in five years to the state tournament in Jackson.
The Hawks will play Drew (16-11) tonight at 7 in the Class 1A North Tournament championship game at Okolona High School, which will determine seeding for the state semifinals.
“I was so nervous because I didn’t want to lose and this end up being my final game,” said the Myrtle senior captain, whose game-winner gave him 17 points on the night. “I was just right there and it (the ball) came right to my hands and I just shot it.”
That shot capped off an amazing comeback by the Hawks (20-17), who trailed by as many as seven points with less than six minutes remaining. Not too mention, their leading scorers on the night weren’t on the Okolona High gymnasium floor at the end; Robert Montgomery (game-high 22 points) and Heriah Dodson (18) both fouled out.
“They made the shot when it mattered,” said Lawrence, who, in his first year at the helm, guided the Lions (13-16) to the North semifinals. “That’s all you can say.
“I can complain about a lot of things, but we just needed to make free throws.”
The Lions missed three free throws and had one erased before the shot went up due to a violation in the final 40 seconds.
The two biggest misses came with 7.8 seconds left on the clock. Chris Harner failed to convert two free throws that would have given the Lions a 70-67 advantage.
Instead, Milsap was allowed to get a shot off in the far right corner with two defenders on him and Yates – whose basket allowed the Hawks to pull within one with 11.7 seconds remaining – was in the right place at the right time.
“You play to the horn and sometimes you have to be lucky than good,” said Myrtle coach Jonathan Ashley. “Russ was in the right spot and made a tough basket and got the foul (called).
“When you play to the whistle and play to the buzzer, good things happen.”
The Lions, who lost both regular-season meetings to their Division 1-2A foe, overcame an eight-point deficit to start the game and took a 15-13 lead with 6.6 seconds left in the first quarter and didn’t relinquish the lead to the very end.
Mitchell Wilson had a monster first quarter for Byers, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the period.
Anthony Mabon led Byers with 21 points while Chris Echols added 10.
– Drew 69, Okolona 68 (OT): D.J. Gardner’s game-high 44 points weren’t enough as the Chieftains (24-9) lost a heartbreaker on their home floor.
Lamarcus Thomas had nine points in a losing effort.