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Gators knocked out of Class 5A playoffs by Center Hill

OLIVE BRANCH — The Vicksburg Gators were playing catch-up all night, and wound up still chasing an elusive state championship.

Zandon Haralson scored 12 of his game-high 23 points in the second quarter, and Center Hill used a decisive surge in the second and third quarters to beat Vicksburg 69-60 in the second round of the MHSAA Class 5A boys’ basketball state tournament on Saturday.

Decorian Payton and Kaeden Laws added 13 points apiece for Center Hill (23-8), and Jacquez Hardin had 12. Haralson and Payton both had double-doubles, with 10 and 12 rebounds, respectively, to go with their point totals.

Vicksburg (20-10) scored the first basket of the game, and then led only one other time, briefly late in the first quarter. Center Hill scored the last seven points of the first quarter to take the lead for good, and then Haralson scored the team’s first 10 points in the second period.

Center Hill finished the second quarter on a 14-3 run, then started the third with a 6-0 spurt to take a commanding 43-24 lead with about six minutes to go. The Gators trimmed that to as little as seven points in the fourth quarter, but got no closer.
Center Hill scored 10 of its 16 points in the fourth quarter at the free throw line, including six of its last eight points in the last three minutes.

Center Hill advanced to face Cleveland Central in the Class 5A quarterfinals on Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. at Itawamba Community College. Cleveland Central beat Columbus 72-54 in another second-round game on Saturday.

Vicksburg was eliminated, and has not been past the second round since reaching the Class 5A championship game in 2014. It has been knocked out in the second round in three of the past four seasons.

The Gators’ last state championship came in 2003, although they reached the championship game in 2011 and 2014.