Moss Point eliminates gritty Gators|[02/27/08]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Young players snag taste of The Big House

JACKSON — Moss Point’s boys basketball team makes its living with relentless pressure defense. Against the most seasoned point guard the press can be misery. Against a group of young players not used to playing the position, it can be deadly.

The Tigers pressed Vicksburg High’s young guards — pressed into service because of a knee injury to leading scorer Jonathan Phelps — into 20 turnovers and a 63-57 victory in the opening round of the Class 4A State Tournament.

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“We have a chance to be really good again next year,” said Vicksburg High junior Maurice Williams, who scored 12 points in the loss. “We are going to play a lot of team ball and strong defense.”

Williams was one of four Gators in double figures in points, but nearly everyone on the roster saw action. VHS has 15 players on the roster, Phelps was hurt and 11 players saw action. Five different Gators tried playing point guard to various degrees of success.

“We had a lot of inexperienced guards out there, playing in the Big House with not much experience,” Vicksburg High coach Dellie C. Robinson said.

In addition to losing Phelps’ 23 points per game, he was the team’s quarterback. His quick hands and feet provide the perfect elixir for breaking a press.

But even without Phelps and a stable full of sophomores playing, the Gators were right there until the end. Vicksburg built a 23-13 lead in the second quarter before watching Moss Point use a 10-0 run to tie the game at the half.

The Tigers came out in the third quarter and used a 13-0 run to take a 40-27 lead, but the gutsy Gators never went away. Vicksburg continued to slice the lead until it got down to two points in the fourth quarter at 53-51. Moss Point scored the next seven, again appearing to pull away from the young Gators, but Vicksburg scored six straight to again get the lead down to two inside the last minute of the game.

“It was a struggle without Phelps, but I really feel like we were the better basketball team tonight,” said Mississippi State football signee Delmon Robinson, who ran point most of the night for VHS. “We beat ourselves and made too many turnovers.”

It’s something Vicksburg will work on in the offseason, trying to make it back to the Big House with a wealth of talent. Phelps, Delmon Robinson, John Qualls, Jaybri Williams and Charles Coleman are seniors this year, but with freshman Mychal Ammons, sophomore Kelsey Howard and Maurice Williams leading the charge, the future is bright.

“Most of the people on the court are younger players who will be returning next year,” Delmon Robinson said. “I’m sure they’ll be back here.”

Vicksburg, playing without top scorer, nearly beats Tigers

By Jeff Byrd

JACKSON — Even without its fallen leader, Vicksburg still had its opportunities to beat Moss Point in the Class 4A State Tournament Tuesday night at the Mississippi Coliseum.

There were four chances early in the fourth quarter to turn a five-point deficit into a tie or better but either a missed shot or a turnover turned the Gators away. Then in the frantic last minute, and the Moss Point lead down to two, the Gators had a golden opportunity to make it a single possession game — if only they could grab a rebound off a missed free throw. Moss Point’s Marlon Williams, however, came up with the loose ball after a back-end miss by Avry Ingram with 40 seconds left.

Without the ball, the Gators had to foul Ingram again and this time he made both free throws to seal the Gators’ fate. Moss Point (32-5) advances to play South State champion Picayune Monday night in the semifinals after beating Vicksburg 63-57. The best Vicksburg season since the school won the 5A title in 2003, ended at 29-8.

Gators coach Dellie C. Robinson may wonder what might have been if senior guard Jonathan Phelps, the team’s leading scorer at 23 points per game, could’ve come back off a knee injury suffered Saturday night in the North State Tournament title game in Oxford. But the veteran coach said he had a good enough team to win this one.

“We definitely had our opportunities. We just couldn’t make that pass or make that shot,” Robinson said. “We had to fight through some inexperience with our guards. We were going through all of our guys, just trying to push the right buttons. We tried five different point guards, but we just turned the ball over too much.”

And that was bad news against a Moss Point club that relies heavily on its full-court pressure. The Tigers forced 20 turnovers. Standout guard Travis Rasco scored 10 of his 13 points by converting five steals into easy layups.

“It was a struggle without Phelps, but we still beat ourselves,” VHS senior guard Delmon Robinson said. “Tonight was all about protecting the ball and most of the people we had out there were pretty young. Moss Point’s team is totally based on their defense. They went for every steal. And yet we still had a seven-point lead and we didn’t put them away.”

Vicksburg looked solid through the first 11 minutes, taking its largest lead of the game at 23-13 following two free throws from John Qualls. The Tigers, though, went on a 10-0 run to close the half, tying it at 23 after a follow-up basket by 6-foot-7 center Travis Jackson.

It was another Moss Point run in the third quarter that put the Gators into a deep hole.

“I think that run in the third quarter really won this game,” Moss Point coach Dale Brown said. “It made them have to catch up and we just happened to hold on.”

With the game tied for the final time at 27, the Tigers went on a 13-0 run to take a 40-27 lead. Marlon Williams’ basket off an offensive rebound started the spurt. A 3-pointer by Rod Little in between conversions of steals by Williams and Jackson put the Gators on the ropes.

“You have to hand it to them,” Brown said of VHS, “they hung in there and I had to take a timeout to remind our guys if they didn’t straighten up, we could lose it.”

Brown’s chat with his team came during the quarter break after VHS responded with an 8-2 streak to close the quarter down 47-40.

A basket by freshman Mychal Ammons made it 47-42. Then came the first set of missed opportunities. Moss Point had a turnover, a missed 3-pointer and an offensive foul called on Rasco during a 70-second stretch. The Gators, though, could not capitalize, missing two shots and making two turnovers, which included a 10-second call.

A third turnover off a Rasco steal led to a slam by Jackson for a 51-42 edge. Five straight points by the Gators’ Kelsey Howard, who finished with 13 points, pulled VHS back to 51-47 with 3:57 left.

Down six, Qualls made two straight baskets, the latter coming off a steal by Robinson that made it 53-51. The Tigers came back with a long pass and dunk by Jackson and then got another steal, this time by Rod Little, for another layup and a six point lead with 1:42 to go.

Jackson led Moss Point with 15 points. Williams and Rasco had 13 each while Little had 11.

Qualls ended with 15 points, nine rebounds and four steals to lead the Gators. Maurice Williams scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half while Ammons had 12 points, six rebounds and two blocks.