Gators tripped up by Provine in Region 4-5A tournament final

Published 12:32 am Saturday, February 11, 2023

Intensity. Excitement. A bit of animosity. A loud crowd in a jam-packed gym, cheering every basket in a game that came down to the wire.

The MHSAA Region 4-5A boys’ basketball tournament championship game had all the elements of a classic except one — a celebration for the home team.

Emajai Horton scored a game-high 17 points, Javian Watkins had 10, and Provine beat Vicksburg 42-38 for the Region 4-5A tournament title on Friday.

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Vicksburg (27-3) had its 14-game winning streak snapped, with its first loss since Dec. 22. The bigger consequence is that it will now have to play in the first round of the Class 5A state tournament rather than receiving the bye that goes to the champion.

The Gators will play at home Tuesday at 6 p.m. against Lafayette.

“It’s frustrating, but we have to get back to the drawing board,” Vicksburg coach Kelvin Carter said. “The good news is, it’s not the end of the road. We’ve got to go back to work tomorrow and get ready for whoever we’re playing Tuesday or Monday.”

Vicksburg had beaten Provine (22-7) twice during the regular season, but never seemed to find the higher gear needed to beat a fellow top 10 team in Class 5A.

The Gators did not score until Jalen Banks banked in a short shot off the glass 15 seconds into the second quarter. They didn’t lead until Banks made another basket to make it 15-14 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.

Banks finished with 13 points to lead the Gators. Malik Franklin scored 10 and Davian Williams had eight.

Although neither team ever led by more than six points, it rarely seemed like the Gators had the upper hand.

“It’s hard to beat a good team three times, but I honestly felt like they got in our heads a little bit. Playing a little bully ball, and it worked. Guys got out of character and it’s just a rough one,” Carter said.

Despite all of their struggles, the Gators still had a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Provine, though, put together one final surge that pushed it to the victory.

The Rams went on a 13-2 run to go up 36-31 with 2 1/2 minutes left, then finished it out with two free throws each from Horton and Watkins.

Vicksburg missed two 3-pointers in the last 35 seconds, and several other shots close to the basket earlier in the fourth quarter.

“I thought we were super duper tight throughout the whole game, and then the physicality played a big role in it,” Carter said.

Now, Carter added, there was no time to dwell on the loss when everything is on the line the next time the Gators hit the court.

“We’re just trying to get back in the groove,” Carter said. “We’ve still got the same team. We’re not a different team. We’ve got to hope this doesn’t filter into the next week.”

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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