TUPELO TAKES IT TO CLARKSDALE IN THE SECOND HALF FOR A 70-50 WIN IN CLASS 5A
By D.E. Wheeler
Back four weeks ago when the Tupelo Golden Wave was sporting a less than nifty 11-13 record, it was not thinking too hard about the North Mississippi Class 5A Tournament.
Now the Wave is not only playing in the north half, it is just one win away from qualifying for the state tournament next week. Tupelo pushed its somewhat surprising postseason run to three straight wins Tuesday, running past the Clarksdale Wildcats 70-50 in the first round of the north half.
“I didn’t know how our guys would respond after last week (two division wins), but this is a new week,” Tupelo coach Lee Stratton said. “Going into tonight, we were really concerned about their big guy,”
The Wildcats’ big guy is 6-8 center Carlos Booker, who shut down Wave 6-5 center John Bradley for most of the first half. But while Booker was putting the defensive clamps on Bradley, the rest of the Tupelo players stepped up.
Mel McElroy drained two 3-pointers to get the Wave (17-14) started with a 6-2 lead. Then swingman Willie Poster drove into the lane twice, scoring around Booker, helping Tupelo to a 21-11 first half lead.
Clarksdale kept Tupelo from increasing that 10-point lead, as Booker and Melvin Hawkins each scored two baskets. Then in the last 1:20 of the half with the score 30-21, Poster and Bradley put in baskets, and Cameron Coleman hit a 3-pointer for a 37-21 lead at the break.
“I thought Donell Watson (five points in the second period) did a good job inside in the first half,” Stratton said. “But we didn’t take it to the big man like I thought we could.”
Bradley figured out how to score against Booker in the third quarter, totaling seven points in the period, including a thunderous dunk during an 11-2 Wave run. By the end of the quarter, Tupelo led 56-36.
“We’ve played other tall people before, but he was the tallest we’ve played,” Bradley said. “We wanted to take it to him, get him in foul trouble, and get him out of the game early.”
The most that Clarksdale could cut into the Tupelo lead in the fourth quarter was following a three-point play by Sammy Yates that cut the margin to 60-46 with 4:39 left. A McElroy steal and layup stopped the Wildcats threat, and Bradley got a little revenge on Booker with a volleyball-like block late in the contest.
Bradley and Poster each scored 17 points for Tupelo with McElroy adding 11. Booker hit 13 and Melvin Hawkins 10 for Clarksdale.
Tupelo plays again Friday in the 8:30 p.m. game against Vicksburg, which beat Greenville 55-52. With Indianola-Gentry losing last week, a secondary 5A north half site had not been named as of Tuesday, although Stratton thought the tournament might go to Vicksburg.
“We need to go ahead and win that first game to make sure we go to the state tournament,” Bradley said.