Vicksburg lone team standing in quest for title

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Vicksburg High’s Roy Williams, center, grimaces as he tries to get through the defense of Columbus’ Julian Harris, right, and Michael Harmon (22) in the second half of the Gators’ 50-40 win over the Falcons on Tuesday night. The win propelled Vicksburg into the North State tournament, where they will face Olive Branch on Friday. (C. Todd ShermanThe Vicksburg Post)

[2/19/03]When Jamaal Thomas got the ball all alone in the closing seconds of Tuesday night’s North State satellite game, the packed Vicksburg High gym rose in unison.

The senior pulled the ball over his head, leaped high in the air and slammed home the final Vicksburg points.

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He also slammed home the Gators’ invitation to the North State tournament, a place Vicksburg has not been to since 1996, with a 50-40 win over Columbus (17-12).

“I knew he was going to shut the block down,” said Vicksburg senior point guard Devin Jones, who scored a game-high 21 points. “Once he gets an opportunity like that, rest assured the crowd is going to go wild.”

The near sellout crowd had plenty to cheer about as the Gators (26-7) took a commanding lead in the first half, staved off a massive third-quarter Columbus run, and harassed the Falcons with a suffocating matchup-zone.

The Falcons, who came in second to Starkville in Division 2-5A, committed nine first-half turnovers and hit only 2-of-8 shots over that time.

“Our point guard made too many crucial mistakes early, and that was part of their defense, I guess,” Columbus coach Sammy Smith said. “We’ve struggled all year at that position and they capitalized on it. If you don’t have discipline from that position, you will struggle.”

While Smith watched his point guard struggle, Vicksburg coach Dellie Robinson saw his excel.

Jones, the unquestioned leader of the team, scored 15 points in the first half and handled Columbus’ vaunted man-to-man defense. Jones’ tip off a missed shot as the buzzer sounded ending the first quarter gave the Gators a 13-7 lead.

“I love man-to-man defense,” Jones said.

“Coach Robinson preached to me that you have to be able to pull up and shoot and I think his advice worked tonight. I just used what the defense gave me.”

L.J. Scott poured in 14 points, including six in a second quarter that saw Vicksburg take a commanding 29-16 lead at the half.

“They’ve been just super for us all year long,” Robinson said. “L.J. stepped it up and D.J. played so well; we always have somebody. The other night it was Roy (Williams) who stepped it up. There’s always someone on this team that will put us on their backs and carry us.”

A Thomas 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 12 seconds left in the third quarter gave Vicksburg a 17-point lead, its biggest of the game.

But the Falcons came storming back.

While Vicksburg went scoreless over that stretch, Columbus used a 14-0 run to get within three at the start of the fourth quarter.

“We made a good run,” Smith said. “At halftime, I felt real comfortable because we thought they shot their best shot at us. We came out relaxed in the third quarter and cut it to three.

“But they are such a good, disciplined team that they weathered it. All good teams have runs, but better teams hold them off.”

Robinson called a pair of timeouts during the run and the Gators started the fourth quarter on a 6-1 run to take a 40-32 lead.

Vicksburg extended the lead back to 10 midway through the fourth quarter and Columbus did not get within six the rest of the way.

In addition to Scott’s 14 points, he grabbed 11 rebounds, while Thomas scored nine points, had nine rebounds and blocked five shots.

“Every game we win is more and more motivation,” Scott said. “We’re not stopping here. We plan to take it all the way.”