March 6, 2014
teams going to state
With a spot in the state tournament on the line, coach James Sales put the basketball in the hands of a ninth grader.
“He has ice water in his veins,” said the Byhalia head coach. “I want him to have the ball in that situation.”
Point guard Avion Graham calmly nailed eight of 10 free-throw shots in the last two minutes of overtime Friday night, as the Indians stunned Greenwood 63-60 to earn their first trip to “The Big House” in 10 years.
“Coach told me not to put pressure on myself – just play the game,” Graham said. “I had to step up for my team.”
The win in the Class 4A North semi-finals at Pontotoc stirred a huge celebration by a big crowd of Byhalia supporters.
“I’m numb,” said Coach Sales, immediately after calling his mother and telling her the good news. “As a coach and a player, you always dream of going to state. It’s a great feeling.”
The big game, with the winner getting one of two spots from 4A in the state tourney, kept fans either on the edge of their seats or standing all night long.
The Indians led by three after one quarter and upped that margin to 21-12 early in the second period on Kendrick Parker’s basket.
The Bulldogs battled back and, thanks to some long-range bombs, snatched a 24-23 advantage with 3:21 left until halftime.
Greenwood was up 29-28 at intermission.
The second half was a war. Byhalia took a 41-40 lead to the fourth quarter, let it slip away for a bit, and then was on top by two going into the last minute of regulation. But the Bulldogs sent the contest to overtime on two free throws (49-49) with 28 seconds remaining.
The Indians, off the tip in overtime, grabbed the lead on Graham’s assist to Parker and never gave it up.
It was 58-53 with 1:11 left in the extra period but Greenwood drained a three.
Graham did the job the rest of the way, his last free throw coming with six seconds left.
The freshman finished with 16 points. Malik Steel and Parker added 15 each and Antonio Wilson eight.
Coach Sales, in his first season at Byhalia, said the players bought into his work ethic.
“Because of our hard work, I knew we could compete with anybody,” he said.
The next night, Saturday, the Indians battled until the buzzer but fell to Shannon 52-47 in the North 4A title match-up.
The game was tied at 11 after the first quarter.
But the Red Raiders, drilling some threes, pulled ahead 29-18 with 1:26 to go in the first half.
Byhalia was down by nine at the halfway point.
The momentum shifted in the third. Parker scored 10 straight points and with 5:19 to go in the period, the Indians were down by just one, 31-30.
A minute and a half later, Wilson nailed a three and Byhalia had swiped the lead, 35-33.
Shannon, on a three-point play the old-fashioned way, led 43-41 at the end of the third.
Byhalia was up briefly, 47-46, in the fourth when Graham scored, was fouled and hit the free throw.
But the Raiders quickly countered with another three and never relinquished the lead this time.
“We didn’t get the ball into the paint enough,” Coach Sales said. “We settled for jump shots.”
Top scorers for Byhalia were Wilson and Parker with 12 each, Steel with 10 and Graham with nine.
For Shannon, Xzavier Jones was the man. He scored 21, including five threes.
The Indians advanced to the semi-final contest versus Greenwood by virtue of a 64-45 win over West Lauderdale on Thursday night at Pontotoc High School.
The outcome was still in doubt at the half, with Byhalia leading 30-26, but the Indians outscored their opponent 21-9 in the third quarter.
Wilson was the top gun with 15 points. Charlie Rogers had 12, Parker nine and Graham eight.
Named to the All-North State team from Byhalia were Graham, Wilson and Steel.
On Tuesday of last week at home, Byhalia eased past Itawamba AHS 86-45 in the first round of north half.
After a bit of a slow start, the Indians went on the warpath and led 39-18 at halftime.
Wilson had back-to-back dunks late in the third and the margin was 65-34. He finished with 18 points.
Steel scored 15, Keondrick Harris 11 and Justin Jones nine.
Next up, the Indians (22-8 on the season) will face South State champion McComb (30-1) in the Class 4A State Tournament semi-finals Tuesday, March 11, at 2:30 p.m. at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. The winner will face the Shannon-Raymond winner on Saturday, March 15, at 2:30 p.m. for the state championship trophy.
It’s the Indians first journey to Jackson since 2004.
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