By Brandon Speck
STARKVILLE – Aberdeen did its best to put a scare in the rest of Class 3A Thursday night, going on the road and beating Starkville, 51-50.
Starkville, a 6A favorite, entered the night as the No. 1-ranked team in Mississippi.
The plan for Aberdeen, ranked No. 6 in the area by the Journal, was to slow down the up-tempo Jackets (19-3).
In a battle of two title contenders, the plan worked an overwhelming majority of the time, but Starkville kept a slight distance in the first half, thanks in part to the offensive glass, leading 30-28 at the break and 42-39 after three.
“We had control the whole game,” Aberdeen coach Cornelius Gilleylen said. “We were able to cover the shooters, front the post and we did a better job the second half rebounding.”
One big key was a little-used reserve, sophomore Jartavious Dobbs. Trailing a point with 11 seconds left, Starkville stole an inbounds pass. During a timeout, Gilleylen subbed in Dobbs.
“I said, ‘Mob the ball,’” Gilleylen said. ‘”If you see a shooter, throw your hands up.’”
That’s what Dobbs did, along with two teammates, forcing Fontavious Smith’s “3-point attempt to arch into the rafters.
“The ball almost touched the ceiling,” Gilleylen said.
Aberdeen (17-7), which held a six-point lead in the first quarter, was down as many as six in the third quarter on a long 3-pointer from Zeb Rice, one of three the rangy sharpshooter hit.
There were plenty of big plays, including Tylan McMillian’s three blocks – one with a one-point lead in the final minute. Both converted key free throws all game – Aberdeen 23 of 29 and Starkville 14 of 17.
The two play again on Feb. 14, where there won’t be any Valentine’s Day cards passed out.
“I never look at a loss as a good loss,” Starkville coach Greg Carter said. “It can be a lesson learned, but you can learn a lesson in a win. It’s definitely got to be a lesson learned.”