Thursday, March 10, 2005

Byers falls in state semi-finals
  • Young Lions finish 23-13


Experience got the best of youth in the Class 1A State Tournament semi-finals Friday night at the Mississippi Coliseum.

Senior-laden Durant came out red hot against Byers, with a roster made up of mostly ninth and 10th graders, and then had to fight off a late Lions surge for the 72-62 victory. The Tigers advance to the state title game Thursday night at 8 p.m. against Hickory Flat, which beat McAdams 68-54 last Saturday afternoon.

Byers played in its fifth straight State Tournament. The Lions finished second in the state in both 2003 and 2004.

Durant featured a roster with 10 seniors. Byers has just three.

“They’re a veteran team, and it showed” said Gerone Kirkland, head coach of the Lions.

“We got off to a 1-4 start this season, and if you would have told me we’d be playing in the state semi-finals with all of these young players, I would have told you it didn’t look good. We bounced back and got this far.

“These guys did a great job. They rose to the occasion.”

Kirkland knew going in that Durant was very dangerous on offense, and he wasn’t pleased with his team’s first-half defense.

“We shot some threes early on that we were not supposed to shoot,” he said, “and they made their threes. They’re a good-shooting club.”

Jonathan Boyd was the thorn in the Lions’ side in the first half. He was four of six from beyond the three-point stripe.

“We left him too open the first half, and then in the second half we went to a triangle and shut him down,” Kirkland said.

Byers tied the game at 4 in the early going, but they never led.

Durant was on top 19-10 after one quarter.

“We made some critical turnovers and missed some easy shots,” Kirkland said.

Thanks to back-to-back threes midway through the second quarter the Tigers went up 27-14.

The Lions trailed 35-22 at the half.

“We knew at halftime that we still had a chance,” Kirkland said. “We’ve been down before, and we’ve played a tough schedule. In the second half we played better defense and we got within striking distance.

“We shook the jitters off, and in the second half I thought we outplayed them.”

The Lions (23-13) did in fact battle their hearts out the second half. They cut their deficit to seven points twice in the fourth quarter, once with 2:47 remaining and again with 1:46 left on a pair of Johnny Shaw free throws.

The Tigers (31-2) iced the win from the charity line.

“Give them credit,” he said. “Like I said, they’re a veteran team, and they shot free throws extremely well when they had to.”

Durant was 18 of 28 from the line for the game, while Byers was six of 12.

Junior Marquet Wells and ninth grader Brandon Young led the Lions with 14 points each. Wells hit two three-pointers in the second half. Shaw, a senior, scored 13.

The other two seniors on the squad are Marcus Gorman, who scored eight points, and Desmond Walker, who scored three.

“I really appreciate the leadership of my seniors,” Kirkland said. “They will be missed.”

Boyd gunned in 22 points for the Tigers. He was followed by Michael Marzette with 21 and Jeremy Williams and Darrell Streeter with 10 each.

Kirkland, who has 794 wins in his 39-year career, completed his sixth year at H.W. Byers. He said he will be back next season.

“I’m going to try it one more year,” he said. “I have a lot of good, young players.”

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