By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – For Tupelo, heartbreak is spelled F-R-E-D.
Jim Hill’s 6-foot-5 Dandy Dozen guard Fred Thomas connected on two 3-point field goals in overtime Saturday to lead the Tigers to a thrilling 76-74 victory over Tupelo in the MHSAA Class 6A State Tournament championship game.
The perimeter bombs by Thomas, who scored a game-high 24 points, erased a 19-point rally by the Golden Wave in the second half.
“It’s tough right now,” Tupelo coach Grant Pate said moments after his team’s disappointing defeat. “A couple of turnovers here and there. I can’t fault our kids. They are the ones who got us here.”
Tupelo trailed 45-26 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter when Thomas hit an off-balanced jumper. It was his lone field goal of the second half of regulation play.
The Golden Wave, behind a 14-point effort by freshman Antonio Green, rallied to take the lead, 58-56, with 3:54 remaining in regulation.
Jim Hill rallied to tie the score at 66-66 on a 3-pointer by Benquale Seales, then took the lead with 24 seconds left on a steal and layup by Trishunn White.
Tupelo forced OT when Josh Hamilton sank a 15-foot jumper to tie the score at 68-68.
In the extra period, Thomas made the shots when it counted.
“Fred’s a team player, but we go to him when the game’s on the line,” Jim Hill coach Stan Speech said. “We want the ball in his hands.”
Rashon Coleman, who scored 16 to lead Tupelo, gave the Wave a 72-71 lead with 56 seconds left in OT. Moments later Dajon Reno’s free throws made it 74-73.
That’s when Thomas worked his magic.
“Fred Thomas is an excellent player,” Pate said. “Our guys battled all year and they gave us a chance. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Tupelo (26-9) was looking for its first gold ball since winning the title in 1968.
The championship was the first for Jim Hill (25-10) since a pre-integration win in 1963 in the Magnolia State championship game.
Tupelo struggled offensively in the first half – 6 of 20 from the field – scoring just two field goals in the final 12 minutes.
Jim Hill shot a blistering 65 percent behind Thomas, who sank 7 of 10 attempts for 16 points in 16 minutes.
Chaz Jones gave the Golden Wave its largest lead, 13-9, at the 4-minute mark of the first quarter with a layup.
Tupelo would not score again until Jordan Sadler’s layup with 4:12 left in the second quarter.
Jim Hill quickly answered the Tupelo basket when Thomas found net with a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Tigers a 29-19 lead.
Jim Hill closed out the first half with a 6-0 run – highlighted by a driving baseline dunk by Thomas – to charge ahead 35-21.