New Hope knocks out Gators again in Class 5A basketball playoffs

Published 11:00 pm Saturday, February 18, 2023

By Elizabeth Keen
Special to The Dispatch

NEW HOPE — Midway through the second quarter Saturday night, Vicksburg held a commanding 13-point lead over New Hope.

​That lead slowly trickled away, and eventually disappeared. The Trojans reigned victorious in front of their home crowd, 53-50, thanks to a few key free throws in the final seconds of the second-round game in the MHSAA Class 5A boys’ basketball playoffs.

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​New Hope (19-7) eliminated Vicksburg (28-4) from the state tournament for the second year in a row. The Gators have not been past the second round since reaching the championship game in 2014.

“I think we could’ve played a lot harder,” Vicksburg coach Kelvin Carter said. “I think just right there at the end, we kind of let the game get away from us.”

​Freshman point guard TJ Warren scored 14 points for New Hope, eight of which came in the third quarter. Sophomore Lonnie Shinn also netted 14 points, and Issac Grady had 12 of his own.

​Shinn and teammate Wilton Bush made the biggest plays when it mattered most, although those might not have been the typical buzzer-beaters or slam dunks that make a highlight reel.

With 20.1 seconds left in the game and his Trojans trailing by one point, Shinn drew a crucial foul that put his team in the bonus. He sank his two free throws with ease, giving New Hope a 51-50 advantage as the clock ticked down.

​Bush found success on both sides of the court, sneaking in for a quick steal that forced the Gators to foul him with just 12 seconds remaining. Like Shinn, he swished both of his free throw attempts and pushed his team’s lead to three. Vicksburg was unable to put up a 3-point shot and force overtime.

​New Hope coach Drew McBrayer was impressed with how well some of his youngest players performed in one of the biggest games of the season so far.

​“We had two sophomores down the stretch making free throws at the end of the ballgame,” McBrayer said. “We had a lot of people step up. TJ definitely carried us there for a while.”

​Vicksburg’s Davian Williams led all scorers with 16 points, shooting a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor. Malik Franklin also scored in double figures with 12 points, and Jalen Banks and Tyler Henderson added six points apiece.

Franklin and Banks are the only seniors on Vicksburg’s roster.

​Although the Gators had their bursts of momentum, they struggled to get their shots to fall. They jumped out to a 21-11 lead at the end of the first quarter before being outscored in each of the remaining three periods. Still, it seemed like Vicksburg had a chance to pull away at the end, as Henderson snagged an offensive rebound and put it back up to give the visitors a 50-47 lead with 52 seconds remaining.

​In the end, it was too little, too late.

​The loss is disheartening for a talented Gators squad that was rarely beatable in the regular season, but Carter offered some advice for his players ahead of a long journey home.

​“Understand how hard you’ve got to work to be successful,” said Carter, whose team more than doubled last season’s total of 12 wins.

​On the opposite end of the court, McBrayer and his Trojans are anticipating the next game: a date with Canton in the MHSAA Class 5A quarterfinals at Itawamba Community College. It’s a big step for a team that’s full of rising stars.

​“Anytime you’ve got a young team like we do, and to be able to move on and go into the next round of the playoffs, it’s a great feeling,” McBrayer said.