Howard’s 36 points lifts Vicksburg over Olive Branch|Gators get Starkville on Friday night

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OLIVE BRANCH — Olive Branch tried five defenses but none of them could slow senior guard Kelsey Howard and the Vicksburg Gators.

Howard torched the Conquistadors for a game-best 36 points to lead the Gators to a 73-63 win in a Class 6A North State satellite game Tuesday night. Vicksburg (25-3) advances to face Starkville Friday night at 8:30 in the Class 6A North State Tournament. Olive Branch, the Division 1-6A champion, ends its season at 21-8.

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Friday, 6 p.m. – Vicksburg at Starkville, winner advances to state tournament

Howard said the Gators had plenty of motivation despite having to start the playoffs on the road after an upset loss at Greenville-Weston last Thursday in the divisional tournament.

“We had to take this win because we had the loss in Greenville and another would end our season. We played hard and we got a big win, but we’re still not where we want to be,” Howard said.

Howard made five 3-pointers, was 9-of-11 from the free throw line and also grabbed eight rebounds. But it was in the second quarter where he steadied the Gators after star forward Mychal Ammons went to the bench with his second foul.

Howard took over the game and scored 11 of his 36 points, including all six of his free throws. Vicksburg was able to go up by 10 at 30-20 before Olive Branch closed to within five at 34-29 by halftime.

“We made a mistake in Greenville by not getting Kelsey started early,” VHS coach Dellie C. Robinson said. “Tonight we made sure we got him going, whether we brought him off screens or just something to create space, we got him the ball. I didn’t want Mike to get his third foul, so we just let Kelsey run things and then we’d have an opportunity with Mike for the whole second half.”

Olive Branch hit a basket to open the second half to make it 34-31, but they would get no closer. An Ammons pass to a cutting Howard was followed by a 3-point play by Howard for a 39-31 lead. Howard’s last basket of the quarter gave VHS a 47-39 edge, but Olive Branch’s Kadeem Cole scored right before the horn to make it 47-41 going to the fourth.

Ammons then asserted his presence on the boards. He blocked four Conquistador shots, had six rebounds and dished three assists, all in the final quarter. Howard was the prime beneficiary and knocked three more 3-pointers and a driving layup.

“When he’s knocking them down like that, you have to give him the ball. We just put them away there in the fourth quarter,” said Ammons, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and four assists.

“Our game plan was to try and limit 23’s (Ammons) and 12’s (Howard) touches, but they are just excellent players. We tried a lot of different things, but not much worked against those two,” Olive Branch coach Ed Coln said.

“No question about it, they tried everything,” Robinson said.

Each one of Howards’ treys in the fourth quarter was a dagger. The second one with 3:53 left gave Vicksburg its largest lead of the game at 63-46. His last one with 1:50 left kept the lead at 13, 68-55.

The Gators also got some key contributions from their other starters like Dominique Brown and Kevin Brown. Dominique Brown had nine points, nine assists and four steals. Kevin Brown swiped two key steals with a minute and change remaining in the fourth quarter. That led to five straight Gator points to extend an eight point lead to 13 at 55-42.

“I came up with those steals and then I hit 3-pointer after the second one, so it was a good night,” Kevin Brown said.

Vicksburg dominated from the free throw line, making 22-of- 27 while Olive Branch was just 13-of- 23.

“We missed 10, that hurt. We could’ve had a shot,” Coln said.

Ledarus Waits led the Conquistadors with 18 points. Jaylon Moore had 17 followed by D.J. Biggs with 15.

Contact Jeff Byrd at