The Booneville Blue Devils almost blinked Friday night.
After cruising through three quarters, the Blue Devils allowed the East Side Trojans to pull within three points late, but survived with a 56-51 victory in semifinal action of the Class 3A North Mississippi tournament.
The victory put Booneville (27-4) into the state tournament for the third year in a row, and sets up a 7 p.m. North championship game today against Velma Jackson.
“We had trouble guarding them, that’s how good a team they are,” Booneville head coach Michael Smith said.
“We’ve seen East Side play five times this year, and they’ve gotten better all year.
“That was as competitive a game as we’ve played all year.”
Booneville cruised into the fourth quarter with a 45-36 lead through three periods.
But as the contest advanced inside one minute to play, two Andrew Banyon free throws with 51 seconds left pulled East Side (21-10) within 54-51.
An ensuing steal had Eastside looking at a one-point deficit, but a hustling Kenny Paul Geno blocked the fastbreak layup. Jordan Miller and Geno then each hit free throws in the final 20 seconds to ice the victory.
“We got too far down early,” East Side head coach Leroy Cotton said. “We couldn’t convert that layup, but I’m proud of the way the guys fought back.”
Geno paced the Booneville offense with 22 points, while Jon Paul Davis led East Side with 16.
The Devils earned some breathing room early in the contest.
Geno scored eight points in the first quarter as the Devils closed the period on a 5-0 run for a 12-8 lead. Then Booneville opened the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt, with Ross Smith off the bench chipping in two post field goals for a 21-8 advantage.
Booneville held a 28-19 margin at the half.