Cleveland Central upsets Gators in first round

Published 5:28 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Vicksburg Gators came flying out of the gate Tuesday against Cleveland Central in the first round of the MHSAA Class 5A state tournament.

They hit a couple of 3-pointers and built a lead.

Then they hit a wall and a cold spell and lost everything.

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Jamal Anderson and Leroy Cotton combined to make eight 3-pointers and score 42 points as Cleveland Central stunned Vicksburg with a 60-55, come-from-behind road win.

Vicksburg (17-11) let an early double-digit lead slip through its fingers and never found its shooting rhythm after a 19-point first quarter. It lost in the first round of the state tournament for the first time in three seasons.

“It’s very disheartening, because the road was paved for us. We got on this side (of the bracket) and thought we had an easy road. But apparently we didn’t. Cleveland Central stopped us in our tracks,” Vicksburg coach Kelvin Carter said. “This was a golden opportunity that we blew. We didn’t overlook these guys by any means, but I thought we were a better team. Tonight we didn’t play like the better team. The best team won.”

Cleveland Central (18-12) advanced to the second round to face Saltillo (22-7) on Saturday.

The loss was a devastating one for Vicksburg. It will lose nine seniors off of this year’s roster, including four of the five starters in Tuesday’s game. Carter said the next group of young players has a bright future, but admitted the program is looking at a retooling effort next season while they get their feet under them.

“We’ll be in a rut next year. We’ve got seven or eight sophomores to go along with the juniors that we had. It’ll be tough,” Carter said.

Jermiyah Brown led Vicksburg with 17 points, most of them on four 3-pointers. Greg Jenkins scored eight of his 12 points in the second half and Ty’Ron Moore added nine.

The team’s leading scorer, Devan Kiner, was held to only two points, on a pair of fourth-quarter free throws. He came in averaging 14.0 points per game and had his worst scoring output of the season.

The Gators were unable to maintain their momentum after building a 32-21 lead late in the second quarter. Cleveland Central closed the first half with an 8-0 run capped by Cotton’s banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer.

In the third quarter, Cotton drilled two 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to give the Wolves their first lead of the game at 40-36 with 4:45 remaining.

“That was the turning point. It’s crazy, when we watched film and scouted them those guys wouldn’t even take those shots. And then tonight they knocked them down,” Carter said. “That game, to me, was lost in the second quarter when we lost momentum. We were up 10 or 11 and they started battling back. We never really gained control of the game again.”

Cleveland Central led 45-44 at the end of the third quarter and seemed to have an answer for everything the Gators did in the fourth. When the Gators missed, the Wolves grabbed the rebound. When they hit a shot, the Wolves made one on the other end.

The coup de grace was a stifling defensive effort down the stretch. Vicksburg’s only points in the last three minutes came on a pair of free throws by Brown with 36.1 seconds left. The Gators still had a couple of chances down the stretch, but missed two shots in the lane with 20 seconds to go that would have made it a one-point game.

Cotton made two free throws with 17.3 seconds remaining, and Moore — almost fittingly, given the way the endgame played out — airballed a meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“We got cold at the wrong time. They gained momentum and just didn’t turn it loose. We tried to get it back and couldn’t get it back,” Carter said. “Once the momentum swung their way, we couldn’t make a shot, we couldn’t make a layup, we couldn’t make a 3. It got tough. I thought it would come and it just never came.”

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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