n Winning coach’s 500th victory comes with a former player on the opposing bench.
By Gene Phelps
JACKSON – Dana Buchanan played for Joe Miller and was part of his first career victory at Southeast Lauderdale.
Tuesday afternoon, she played a reluctant role in his 500th career win.
Miller’s Lady Tigers needed all 32 minutes to edge Buchanan’s Houston Lady Hilltoppers, 61-57, in the semifinals of the MHSAA Class 3A girls state tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“I asked her before the game, ‘How about letting the old man have this one,’ then she can have the rest,” Miller said, then laughed postgame. “She didn’t go for that.”
Buchanan, who’s in her fifth season at Houston, said that while Southeast Lauderdale would always be a part of her heart, “I didn’t want to be here for his 500th win.”
Buchanan’s team, which won the North Mississippi title, entered the state semifinals after a 10-day layoff. The Hilltoppers’ play in the first eight minutes was a reflection of that extended break.
‘Too many nerves’
Houston committed 10 turnovers and trailed 17-6 at the end of the first quarter.
“We started with way too many nerves,” Buchanan said. “A 10-day layoff is a lot for a team that has never been here.”
But the Hilltoppers recovered to outscore the Tigers 19-13 in the second quarter and close the gap to 30-25 at halftime. Tynita Baker and Kennyatah Wofford hit for 3-pointers to help Houston pull to within striking distance.
In the fourth quarter, Houston closed the gap to one point three times in the final four minutes, the last time at 58-57 with 22 seconds left on a strong putback by powerful 6-foot-1 center Tiffany Pierce.
Pierce’s basket, which gave her a team-high 19 points, ended the Hilltoppers’ scoring.
“I told (Pierce) at halftime she had to step up and make something happen,” Buchanan said. “In the second half, every time she got the ball she made a good post move.”
Southeast Lauderdale connected on 3-of-4 free throws for the final margin.
Houston saw a Baker 3-point attempt fall short that would have tied the score with 12 seconds left.
“At the end, we got the shot we wanted, but it’s not always going in,” Buchanan said.
Southeast Lauderdale (31-3) earned an opportunity to defend its state championship against Raymond at 7 p.m. Friday in the 3A final.
Houston (26-3) saw one of its most successful seasons end.
“This team played with a lot of heart,” Buchanan said. “Nobody thought we’d be here, except those who had seen us play last year.”
n Box score, Page 2B