Gators try to break second-round jinx against Olive Branch

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Reaching the postseason has not been a problem for Vicksburg High’s boys’ basketball team. Winning in the postseason hasn’t been an issue, either.

Winning more than once has been the tricky part.

The Gators have had their season end in the second round of the state tournament four consecutive years, and six times in the last seven. It’s a streak they’re well aware of, and one they desperately want to end, when they play Olive Branch Thursday in the second round of the MHSAA Class 6A tournament.

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“We’ve got to get over that hurdle. It’s definitely been a thorn in our side,” Vicksburg coach Kelvin Carter said. “We’ve had match-up nightmares with New Hope over the years, and had a lot of self-inflicted wounds. Hopefully we can get over that hump on Thursday.”

Vicksburg (22-6) and Olive Branch (24-3) will face each other Thursday at 7 p.m. at Mississippi Valley State University. The winner will advance to the Class 6A semifinals next week at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson.

Picayune (23-7) and Terry (22-6) will play at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Valley, with that winner moving on to play the VHS-Olive Branch winner.

Vicksburg played for the Class 6A championship in 2011 and the 5A title in 2014, but lost both times and hasn’t been back since. The Gators have had plenty of quality teams in the past decade — they’ve averaged 16 wins per season — so the drought, Carter said, shows just how difficult it is to reach the deepest stages of the playoffs.

“That right there would be the tip of the iceberg. We’ve been working for years trying to get there. We’ve had some pretty good pieces, but it’s not easy,” Carter said. “People think it’s easy just because you’ve got a few players. You need a little bit of luck, you need some talent, and you need a whole lot of Jesus.”

Olive Branch defeated Columbus 83-37 in its first-round game last weekend, and Vicksburg likewise had little trouble in routing Lake Cormorant 82-47.

Kameryn Bailey had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, four other players scored in double figures, and Vicksburg led from start to finish. The Gators opened the game on an 11-0 run and the lead only briefly dipped into single digits after that.

In addition to Bailey’s double-double, Tyler Henderson led Vicksburg with 14 points, Davian Williams had 10 and DeCorey Knight Jr. scored nine. Kealon Bass and Michael Johnson scored 12 each. Bass made four 3-pointers.

That kind of depth, Carter said, is what the Gators need to carry them not just to the Coliseum but possibly all the way to the program’s first state title since 2003.

“If you can get six points out of this one, six points out of that one, you know you’re going to get 10 or 15 out of Davian and Kam, and you’re on your way,” Carter said. “The reserves played well. The young people played well. To have seven or eight guys is a plus.”

The rout of Lake Cormorant continued Vicksburg’s trend of first-round blowouts. Its seven first-round victories since 2017 have been by an average of 20.7 points, and this was the fifth time it won by at least 17.

That kind of dominance has easily established Vicksburg as one of Mississippi’s best boys’ basketball programs. Now it just needs to punch through to the next level to cement that status.

“It’s a wonderful feeling just to continuously find our way in the playoffs. Since I’ve been here I’ve been trying not to fill those shoes of Coach (Dellie C.) Robinson, but put a new pair on. I think we’ve been doing pretty good trying to get there,” said Carter, who took the reins of the program from his predecessor and mentor Dellie C. Robinson in 2017. “But you and I both know that’s not the ultimate goal. We want to step on that Coliseum floor. We’ve got a team that can do it if we play team ball and play together.”

• Thursday, 7 p.m.
• At Mississippi Valley State University
• MHSAA Class 6A tournament, second round

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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