By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
MYRTLE – Halle Knowles just wanted to see a different ending Friday night – one where Myrtle wins the close game, not loses it.
The Lady Hawks’ junior guard got her wish.
Myrtle, ranked No. 3 in Northeast Mississippi by the Daily Journal, defeated No. 4 H.W. Byers 53-51 in a Division 2-1A thriller.
The loss for Byers was its first against a Mississippi team this season.
“We just tried to do something different,” said a smiling Knowles, who scored 13 points and connected on two free throws in the final 30 seconds to help seal the victory. “It was very important for us to win.”
The win was also a relief for Knowles’ coach, Chris Greer, who has seen his team lose five games this season in the fourth quarter.
“This was a big win,” he said. “We’ve been tied or ahead in all five of our losses. It starts sticking in your head … you wonder if you can pull it off.”
Myrtle (19-5, 5-1) and H.W. Byers (16-8, 5-1) are now tied in division play with one loss apiece. Byers defeated Myrtle, 52-50, Dec. 10.
Both coaches say they need to win out in division play before worrying about a possible tiebreaker.
“Neither one of these teams if going to blow the other one out,” Byers coach Jason Thompson said. “The way I see it, we need to win out. We’ve still got an opportunity to be the top seed.”
The two teams went to the dressing room after a sluggish first half with Byers holding a 24-23 lead.
“We shot way too many blanks,” Thompson said. “Myrtle played solid defense. They made sure we shot blanks.”
Back-to-back baskets by Richenda Crutcher gave the Lady Lions an early 28-23 advantage in the third quarter.
Myrtle looked inside to 6-foot post Aspriona Gilbert for three field goals later in the quarter, which ended with the score tied 38-38.
Byers kept Gilbert, who scored a game-high 17 points, quiet in the first half by using a variety defenses.
“They mixed it up,” Greer said. “They used man, a 1-2-2 and 2-3 flat zone, and a desperation press. They baffled us.”
Knowles tied the game at 49-49 with 2:11 remaining, then Gilbert out the Hawks ahead with a putback at the 1:47 mark.
Byers’ star guard, Alexis Hardaway, scored 13 points in just her fourth game back after knee surgery. Down the stretch she was called for a travel and missed short on a 3-point attempt.
“Her legs are nowhere close to being under her,” Thompson said. “She gave us a great effort. She just needed more rest.”
Kourtney Coleman scored 16 to lead the Lady Lions.
– (B) Myrtle 89, H.W. Byers 84: Russ Yates connected on eight 3-pointers and scored 41 points for the Hawks, but it was his two free throws with 4.9 seconds remaining that sealed the win.
Byers rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to cut Myrtle’s lead to 84-83 with 1:30 left.
The Hawks hit on 18 of 24 free throws in the fourth quarter.