By David Wheeler / NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – The past two Fridays, the Tupelo Golden Wave arguably passed their two most important tests of the season by claiming two wins over Starkville.
But in an important secondary level challenge Saturday, the Wave failed.
In action Saturday at the Hotbed Classic in New Albany, Tupelo fell victim to the size and quickness of the Piney Woods Tornados as the Wave were defeated 71-51.
“Piney Woods is a tremendous team, one of the top teams in Mississippi,” said Tupelo coach Grant Pate of the Tornados, who are currently ranked No. 6 in the state in the Clarion Ledger Super 10. “We didn’t do as good a job on the boards as we needed to, and we gave up too many layups in transition.”
While Piney Woods (16-3) did several things better than Tupelo (21-3), the Wave were cold from 3-point range, especially in the first half. And Piney Woods turned many of those Tupelo misses into easy points.
Kentwan Smith got Tupelo’s attention with three first-quarter dunks.
But a tip in and two fast-break baskets by the Tornados contributed to a 9-0 run to close the period, and the Wave found themselves looking up at a 21-10 deficit.
“We do like to bring a lot of pressure, and that keeps guys on the other team playing faster than they normally play,” Piney Woods coach Lemuel Jones said. “With our size and length, we can challenge shots, then get transition baskets.”
Tupelo made zero 3-pointers in the first half, usually a staple of its offense. And many of those misses resulted in long rebounds that Piney Woods swooped in on, and converted into fast-break points that left the Wave looking at a 38-25 deficit at the half.
The Wave then found themselves after the halftime break. Dajon Reno hit a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter. Then a 6-1 run by Tupelo, capped by four free throws by Chris Brooks, pulled the Wave within 49-42 with 1 minute, 27 seconds to play in the period.
But in the last minute of the quarter, an Alijah Franklin layup, and another dunk by Smith pushed the Piney Woods lead to 53-42. Smith then began the fourth quarter with two more dunks, and Tupelo could never regain the momentum it had in the third quarter.
“We spent a lot of energy last night, but Piney Woods did a good job taking care of the ball and getting high-percentage shots,” Pate said. “And when we missed 3-point shots, it was like a long outlet pass.”
Jamal Walker paced the Piney Woods offense with 19 points, and Smith added a loud 18, including seven dunks. Deontaye Ewing managed 19 to lead the Tupelo offense.
n Game summary, Page 2C