By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – What was New Albany’s reward for winning its division tournament?
An opportunity to play Rosa Fort, a team that had already won more than 25 games this season, in the quarterfinals of the MHSAA Boys Basketball Class 4A North Tournament.
In more ways than one, the Lions proved to be a difficult matchup for the Bulldogs, as they defeated New Albany 67-54 in Thursday afternoon’s North quarterfinals game at Pontotoc High School.
“They’re big, they’re athletic, they’re fast and they got a couple of guys that can shoot the ball really well,” said New Albany head coach Brad Gray, whose team ended its season at 21-9. “When you got a combination like that, it makes it tough for a team to compete against you.”
Rosa Fort’s size created problems for the Bulldogs, and the Lions were able to lead from start to finish.
“We had matchup problems all night,” said Gray, whose team has only one player standing at least 6-feet, 5-inches tall. “When their guards are bigger than your post players or about the size of your post players, you’re going to have trouble matching up with them.”
New Albany, which defeated Kosciusko in Tuesday’s first-round game, trailed 20-18 after the first quarter, but was outscored 47-36 the rest of the way.
“Our defense kept us in it,” said Rosa Fort head coach Fred Steele, whose team entered the North Tournament with a 25-4 record and is now 27-4. “I thought we had a monstrous defense tonight.”
Malcolm Spears scored a game-high 20 points for the Daily Journal’s third-ranked large school, but that alone wasn’t enough to keep the Bulldogs from trailing by double digits for most of the second half.
Rodney McKay (14), Bernardrick McKinney (14), Adam Williams (12) and Billy Jackson (10) led Rosa Fort’s balanced attack.
Kareem Brown and Allen Ball had 12 and 10, respectively, for New Albany.
Pontotoc 72, Lewisburg 58
– The Warriors advanced to their very first 4A North semifinals game thanks in large part to their shooting from long distance.
Pontotoc (19-13) hit eight 3-pointers in the first half to lead 40-24 by halftime.
Andrew Bell scored a team-high 15 points on five treys. Shaq Crayton tallied 14 points, Josh Green 13 and Griffin McCormick and Adrian Potter each had 11 for the Warriors, who will face Greenwood in the semifinals at 7:30 tonight.
Gaylen Frasier outdid Bell with six 3s en route to scoring a game-high 19 points for the Patriots (18-11). However, despite his team outscoring its opponent 34-32 in the second half, Pontotoc was still able to win comfortably.
Greenwood 66, Houston 64
– The Hilltoppers had their chances in the end, but Greenwood was able to hold on for the win.
Thomas Hill (14 points) scored inside and was fouled to tie the game at 64-all with 9.8 seconds left.
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, Hill missed the ensuing free throw, and Greenwood had plenty of time to score the winning points.
Jeffrey Simmons (11 points) scored on a layup with 4.3 seconds remaining and Jeremy Collins (10 points) had a game-clinching steal with half a second on the clock to preserve the win for Greenwood (24-6).
Devante Pulliam (19) and Kirby Jones (18) led Houston (16-9) in scoring.
Center Hill 60, Noxubee Co.49
– Ashaad Stephens scored 18 points, while teammate Jaquon Mullins had 16, to lead Center Hill to the 4A North semifinals where it will play Rosa Fort.
Brandon Lucas added 11 points for the Mustangs (19-14), who face the Lions at 6 tonight at Pontotoc High School.