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Unranked Gators reach Class 5A final

Vicksburg High’s Devin Jones goes in for two of his game-high 30 points as Hattiesburg’s Alton Robinson, left, defends in the second half of their Class 5A state semifinal game on Monday. The Gators advanced to play either Starkville or Wayne County in Friday night’s state title game. (Melanie Duncan ThortisThe Vicksburg Post)

[3/4/03]JACKSON Of Devin Jones’ career-high 30 points in Monday night’s Class 5A state semifinal win over Hattiesburg, none were more telling than the final 11.

Vicksburg’s leading scorer stepped to the free-throw line with the school’s first state championship appearance since 1980 hanging in the balance and he nailed shot after shot.

Eleven free throws taken.

Eleven free throws made.

Game over.

The senior’s final points vaulted the Gators into Friday’s state championship game against either Starkville or Wayne County.

“He’s made those free throws all season long,” said Vicksburg coach Dellie Robinson, who will coach in his first Class 5A final on Friday. “We’ve won a lot of close ball games because we have gotten him to the line. When he gets in a rhythm, he’s not going to miss them.”

Jones’ effort was in stark contrast to a Hattiesburg (30-4) team that came in sporting a South State championship, a talented backcourt and four players taller than 6-feet, 6-inches. The Tigers made 7 of 20 free throws, many coming in the second half while trying to come back from a 10-point halftime deficit.

“We knew they were going to get the ball in (Jones’) hands,” Hattiesburg coach Yama Jones said. “He’s a heckuva player. He’s what makes them click.”

Monday also marked another game in which the undersized Gators no player taller than 6-4 dominated both the offensive and defensive boards. L.J. Scott had 13 rebounds, Cedric Parson grabbed nine and Jones added eight as Vicksburg outrebounded the Tigers 39-28.

“I didn’t think they’d do that good,” said Hattiesburg’s 6-7 junior Alton Robinson, who was held to six points. “All last week we worked on boxing out. Our men just didn’t box out.”

Vicksburg will have to do as good a job Saturday night against either Starkville or Wayne County. The Gators lost to Starkville in the North State championship game, but were within a few points in the second half.

Starkville features 6-9 Mississippi State signee Travis Outlaw, while Wayne County has 6-foot-6 junior Cedric Jones.

“It’s hard defense and grabbing the rebounds under the basket,” Vicksburg’s Jamaal Thomas said. “It’s all about the defense.”

Either way, the Gators reached the state championship riding a ferocious defense and opportunistic offense.

The Gators took a 27-17 lead into halftime Hattiesburg’s lowest first-half output of the season. The Tigers, though, countered in the second half using pressure defense to slowly whittle the Gators’ lead away.

“I knew they’d start making some of those outside shots they were missing in the first half,” Robinson said of Hattiesburg. “We had to just hold it down.”

The Tigers pulled within four at the end of the third quarter and got the deficit down to one on several occasions in the fourth quarter, but were never able to take the lead.

Terry Bryant, Hattiesburg’s answer to Devin Jones at point guard, led the Tigers with 18 points, but was held scoreless in the first half. Jason Simmons added 16 in the loss.

Roy Williams netted 10 for Vicksburg and Parson came off the bench to score nine. “I have coached much more talented teams,” Robinson said. “But this team here, this one has more heart than any team I have ever coached.”

Robinson planned to watch Starkville’s game this afternoon in preparation for Friday night’s championship game.

While players made it clear they wanted a rematch with Starkville, Robinson said he didn’t care.

“I don’t care about Wayne County or Starkville,” Robinson said. “We’re in the state championship on Friday night and we’ll see what happens.”

Devin Jones added, “I want Starkville, but we’ll take Wayne County, it doesn’t matter, we want the win.

It doesn’t matter who shows up, we are coming to play.”