Gators well-prepared for defensive-minded Titans

Published 11:30 am Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Vicksburg guard Laderrie Ward dribbles the ball against Brandon earlier this season. Vicksburg will play at Ridgeland in a playoff game tonight at 7.

Vicksburg guard Laderrie Ward dribbles the ball against Brandon earlier this season. Vicksburg will play at Ridgeland in a playoff game tonight at 7.

In January, after his team had struggled to hold onto leads and seemed gassed from its up-tempo style and realtively shallow bench, Vicksburg coach Dellie C. Robinson decided to slow things down. For a couple of weeks, he experimented with a plodding half court style that brought scores into the 30s.

As it turns out, Robinson had another motive for the switch.

The Gators’ opponent for tonight’s Class 5A North State satellite game is Ridgeland, a tough defensive team that likes to employ that same style. The Titans are giving up just 33 points per game and have held their last six opponents under 40. Their two opponents in the Division 3-5A tournament scored a total of 40.

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The grinding style helped Ridgeland go 25-4 this season and win both the regular season and tournament division championships. Now it’s the Gators (16-7) who need to draw on their earlier experience to bring the Titans’ slow-motion roll to a full standstill in an elimination game at Ridgeland.

“We knew we would match up with Ridgeland, and we knew how Ridgeland plays. So we tried to play that way a couple of games, and we did real well with it. We’re going to have the opportunity to play the same way over there so we’ll see how it goes,” Robinson said.

Ridgeland’s defense has been dominant to an almost ridiculous degree. It has allowed 25 or fewer points in 12 of its 29 games and hasn’t allowed more than 50 since losing 54-48 to Laurel on Jan. 11.

The flip side of playing low-scoring games, however, is that the Titans don’t score a lot themselves. They’ve only surpassed the 50-point mark once in their last seven games.

“It’s going to be a challenge, because they play really tough defense. They don’t score a lot of points, but they don’t give up a lot of points. We’re going to have to be real patient in what we do and selective in what we do, because you’re not going to get a lot of shots. You’ve got to make the most of what you get,” Robinson said.

Vicksburg got a good look at the type of defense it might see tonight in last week’s Division 4-5A tournament championship game against Callaway, the odds-on favorite to win its third consecutive Class 5A championship. The Chargers smothered Vicksburg’s ball handlers and shooters, forcing nine steals and numerous turnovers in a 69-44 win.

It was Vicksburg’s most lopsided loss of the season. While the Gators will see a strong defensive team in Ridgeland, however, Robinson said he didn’t expect his team to have as difficult a time as it did with a supremely talented Callaway squad.

“Ridgeland’s got a real good basketball team. We’ve got a lot of respect for Ridgeland. But certainly, they’re not in a category with Callaway. We’re certainly going to have an opportunity to win the ballgame,” Robinson said.

It didn’t take Robinson long to shrug off the loss to Callaway and focus on the positives. His team still has an excellent opportunity to make it to the state tournament for the first time since reaching the Class 6A final in 2011. It’s also in line to host the rest of the North State tournament if it gets by Ridgeland and West Point (24-5) loses its satellite game against Lake Cormorant (11-12).

“This time of year, you’re glad to be playing. A lot of teams are not playing. We came here and beat Pearl on their home floor, so certainly we can go to Ridgeland and beat Ridgeland on their home floor,” Robinson said, adding with a grin, “We ain’t dead yet.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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