There’s a saying in basketball that goes, “If you live by the three, you die by the three.”
Well, the Yazoo County Panthers have used their three-point shooting prowess all season long, paving the way to a 30-win season and a berth in the Class 3A semifinals at the State Tournament held at the Mississippi Coliseum.
Their hot shooting, however, abandoned them at the wrong time this week as they shot a horrid 27percent from behind the arc on 7-of-26 shooting en-route to a 72-61 season-ending loss to the Velma Jackson Falcons.
Yazoo County ends the year 30-1.
“We didn’t shoot the ball well at all. I feel that my guys got overcome by the lights. We were missing little, simple assignments,” said YCHS head coach Rahim Lockhart. “As a coach I have to take responsibility for that. The most important thing at the end of a year like this is not so much critiquing the actual final game, as acknowledging the great journey you had. I don’t have any complaints with this team.”
The Panthers were trying to become only the second team since 1986 to complete a season undefeated in Mississippi boys’ basketball. From the outset it looked as though their journey would continue for one more game.
Yazoo County came out playing inspired basketball in the first quarter and despite some early misfires from deep, they were able to come away with a 16-10 first quarter advantage.
Unfortunately, the inefficiency from behind the three point line, which one might attribute to first quarter jitters, continued in the second quarter, allowing the Falcons to creep back into the ball game.
With the score tied at 21, Falcon forward Charlie Jones scored on a putback layup at the 3:06 mark of the quarter, putting Velma Jackson up 23-21 and giving them a lead they would never relinquish.
The Falcons outscored Yazoo County 10-3 the rest of the quarter and took a nine-point 33-24 lead into the intermission.
Panther forward Emon Washington’s 12 first half points were pivotal in keeping the Panthers in the game, but with the third quarter just minutes underway, the Panthers were dealt a devastating blow as Washington, while battling for a rebound, came crashing down hard on the Big House floor. After several minutes, he was helped off the floor and to the bench, leaving his teammates to try and hold down the fort until he could return.
“I think it kind of set us back a little and hurt us in the third quarter when Emon went down,” said Lockhart. “I’m not saying it definitely would have changed it because they (Velma Jackson) were already playing pretty good, but I would have liked to see our team be healthy the whole game.”
Fortunately for Lockhart, sophomore guard Kejuan Frierson was just beginning to heat up.
“One thing about this team is that we never associated ourselves with just one player,” said Lockhart. “Our strength has always been, we are one. So when he went down, we just all just said, ‘Ok, you’ve got to step up and do your job’ without even talking about it.”
Frierson scored seven points in the quarter to lead a Panther comeback, and when guard John Lewis buried two free throws with 3:05 remaining in the quarter, Yazoo County had cut the Falcon lead to three, 40-37. Velma Jackson scored seven more points to pull back ahead before Marty Burrell hit a three-pointer at the end of the quarter to leave the score 47-41 heading into the final frame.
Much to the delight of the Panther fans, Washington returned to the court early in the fourth quarter and immediately scored on an acrobatic shot in the lane to pull the Panthers within eight, 51-43. Frierson did his best to keep the Panthers in the game, scoring 11 fourth quarter points, but Yazoo County could get no closer than eight points as the Falcons connected on 11 free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Frierson led the Panthers with 23 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals while Washington followed with 15 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks. Lewis chipped in with nine points and 4 assists, Burrell had eight and LaKevin Dixon added six.
Josh Lee led a quartet of double-figure scorers for Velma Jackson with a game-high 25 points. Jordan Harvey added 14, Jones had 13 and Mason Riley had 12.
Added Lockhart: “My hat’s off to Velma Jackson. It’s hard to beat a team and a program like that. They played really well and played good team ball. My hat’s off to my team as well. We’ve accomplished a lot this season. I told the guys to take this feeling, swallow it and let it be food to motivate you and give you the energy to do what you need to do next year. We’ve got our top eight guys returning and we have a few guys that we think are going to grow and be able to help us. The biggest thing is the guys now have confidence so the sky is the limit for this team.”