He led all scorers with 45 points - with 28 coming in the second half as he couldn't be stopped - in what ended up being an 85-57 thrashing of ninth-ranked Ripley (14-7) at Memorial Gym. Okolona, coming off a disappointing loss at West Oktibbeha on Friday, improved to 15-7 on the year.
What's most impressive about Gardner's performance is that he did it on a bad wheel. The 6-foot-6 Mississippi State commitment's left foot has been bothering him quite a bit. Not to mention, he may still be feeling the effects of a twisted right ankle he suffered earlier this month.
"It's some kind of thing on my bone," Gardner said about his injured foot. "I'm going to have surgery at the end of the season. I'm going to get that over with, so I'll be ready when I have to go down to State and play."
Saturday's Okolona-Ripley game featured two of the best scorers in Northeast Mississippi: Okolona's Gardner and Ripley's Acie Vance. They keep in touch all the time, says Gardner.
While Vance had a solid outing (team-high 27 points) and resembled NBA player Dwayne Wade when he hit the deck on a couple of drives, the spotlight was the brightest on Okolona's No. 5.
After a first half in which both he and his AAU teammate scored 17 points, Gardner started to really feel his shot.
Gardner took a one-point game at the start of the second half and turned it into a 12-point Chieftains lead by the end of the third quarter. He scored the first points of the half, converted an and-1 drive, had another impressive take, sunk a step-back 3 and knocked down another 3 from NBA range.
He tallied 15 points altogether in the third period.
"I was just stroking it, man," Gardner said. "It was feeling good."
'It was over'
Three of Gardner's five 3-pointers on the night came in the fourth quarter, and the Okolona star ended his night with an emphatic dunk to give his team a 79-53 lead with 1:13 left in the contest.
"That was it. It was over," Gardner said about his exclamation-point slam before leaving the Memorial Gym floor to an ovation.
After doing a post-game interview, a fan approached Gardner and asked him for his autograph - which he gladly signed the piece of paper.
"It's amazing, man," the Okolona player said. "It's a good feeling."
And while his aching foot didn't leave him with a good feeling after Saturday's game, Gardner was simply happy to get the W, his team's 15th of the season.
"It will get right," he said about his injury.
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org.