Howard delivers against Forest Hill|Prep basketball

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 19, 2010

JACKSON — Before Vicksburg took the floor for its Martin Luther King Day Classic game against Forest Hill, Gators senior Kelsey Howard got a good-luck handshake from Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury.

For awhile, it didn’t seem the gesture registered much good luck for Howard, who struggled against Forest Hill’s combination defense. But with 4.7 seconds left in a tied game, Howard knocked down two free throws that gave the Gators a thrilling 67-65 win over the Patriots.

Forest Hill (10-7) had one last shot, but the Gators (18-2) made sure Mississippi’s Mr. Basketball, Andre Stringer, would not take it. Richard Deans took it and missed short, preserving the Gators’ second straight MLK win at Lanier High School.

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“It was a big win. They (Forest Hill) wore me out. As for Stringer, he’s all right,” Howard said.

Until his game-winning free throws, Howard had just 10 points. The Gators, however, lost star Mychal Ammons to fouls with 31.8 seconds left. It was up to Howard to step up.

Stringer, an LSU signee, converted Ammons’ fifth foul into two free throws. The free throws completed a 17-for-18 day at the line and a 30-point game.

Vicksburg held for the last shot. With 7.4 seconds left, Howard started toward the free throw line and looked to be in trouble. But he drew the foul instead while falling squarely to the floor on the seat of his pants. It was one of the few times, Vicksburg got a call, something Stringer got repeatedly.

“You just had to keep it from getting to you,” Howard said of the officiating.

“Kelsey was there at the end and that is all that matters,” VHS coach Dellie C. Robinson said.  “He (Stringer) can play, and you saw the deal we got, but my kids played to the end.

“This was a very satisfying win. After all the blowouts we’ve had lately, we needed to play a close game like this.”

“You can’t let the calls frustrate you,” Ammons added. “We just had to play through it.”

It was a tight game throughout. Stringer hit a 55-footer at the first quarter horn to give the Patriots a lead they would not get back until the last minute of the third quarter.

A 3-point play by Ammons gave Vicksburg a 34-31 lead, and it was 34-33 at the half. The Gators went up nine in the third quarter only to see Zack Pendleton cap a 12-2 run on a one-handed slam to give the Patriots a 49-48 lead. 

Dominique Brown answered for the Gators with a 3-point play and a driving layup to give VHS a 53-51 lead going to the fourth quarter.

Ammons hit four free throws and a Howard basket helped Vicksburg get a 60-55 cushion with 3:10 left. Ammons then hit his final basket with 1:31 remaining to give the Gators a four-point edge at 65-61.

Stringer, though, would hit four free throws in a 40-second span, the last coming with 31.8 seconds left, to tie the game for the last time at 65.

Ammons finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds, five blocks and three assists. Brown had 18 points and four assists.

Pendleton had 13 points for Forest Hill and Taj Court added 10.

After tonight’s road game at McComb, the Gators will play on Saturday in the annual Red Carpet Classic tournament at Warren Central.

Vicksburg will battle Northwest Rankin in the afternoon, with the girls playing at 1 p.m. and the boys following at 2:30 p.m.


Contact Jeff Byrd at