Foul trouble hurts VHS in title game

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 24, 2003

[2/23/03]STARKVILLE Devin Jones could only sit and watch as Vicksburg High’s chances at a second straight upset began to slip away in the third quarter of Saturday night’s North State championship game.

With Jones on the bench after getting whistled for a questionable fourth foul early in the period, the Gators (27-8) began to unravel and Starkville (27-2) began to pull away. The Yellow Jackets went on an 11-0 run en route to a 50-34 win.

“That’s been our Achilles’ heel in our eight losses is him getting in foul trouble early,” Vicksburg coach Dellie Robinson said. “There’s no doubt about it, DJ’s our leader, and he’s got to be on the court for us to win.”

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Still, the Gators were looking forward to their first trip to the Mississippi Coliseum in seven years. They play Moss Point Tuesday at 8 p.m.

“We know we were lost against a good team,” said Jones, who led VHS with 11 points. “We’ll just use that as motivation from now on. We’ll be ready for them next time.”

Mississippi State signee Travis Outlaw had 24 points and seven blocks for the Jackets, who haven’t lost to a Mississippi team this season. The 6-foot-9 star scored from inside and outside, with an arsenal that included putbacks, drives and turnaround jumpers.

He brought fans to their feet when he went from end to end and took off about 10 feet from the basket before slamming one home at the end of the half, drawing a foul on Jones in the process.

“He’s a great offensive player,” Robinson said. “We needed to be tougher keeping him from getting the ball.”

Still, Robinson was pleased with his team’s defense.

Outlaw was impressed, too.

“They’re really physical,” Outlaw said of the Gators. “We probably average about 80 points a game.”

It was the offense that didn’t come through for the Gators, who made just 14 of 49 shots and didn’t match the Jackets on the boards. VHS shot only four free throws to Starkville’s 19.

“You’ve got to be able to make your outside shots if you’re going to have a chance,” Robinson said.

Starkville coach Greg Carter, a former Mississippi State assistant, admitted that VHS set the pace.

“This was definitely the way they like to play,” he said.

Jamaal Thomas was a bright spot for the Gators, scoring nine points on 4-of-6 shooting, including a big follow-up dunk late in the third.

In the fourth, L.J. Scott fouled out with a flagrant foul on Darvell Jackson during a breakaway that was set up by an Outlaw block.

The Gators became the first Mississippi team to beat Olive Branch Friday night, 53-51 in overtime, to secure a trip to the Big House. The Conquistadors won the consolation game over Murrah, 60-46.

The Gators feel confident that they can bounce back.

“We’re going to shake this one off,” Jones said. “We’ll be all right.”