Area teams go winless at Miss. tourney

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The scoreboard may not have been kind to the Black Belt’s teams at Saturday’s Vaughn-Robinson Classic at New Hope High School in New Hope, Miss. But that doesn’t mean the venue or the experience wasn’t.

Area boys’ teams Demopolis, Greene County, and Livingston all fell to their Mississippi opponents at the tournament: DHS to Grenada 61-50, Greene to Madison County 57-53, and Livingston to Caledonia 68-62.

Despite the loss, Demopolis head coach Jesse Bell was upbeat about the chance to play in New Hope’s spacious gym against a quality opponent.

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“We knew we were going to have a tough game,” he said. “But I’m glad we came. This is a great gym. It will help us if we go to South Alabama [for Regionals].”

Grenada 61, Demopolis 50

A second-half rally from the Tigers wasn’t enough to overcome a cold-shooting and foul-plagued first half as Demopolis fell to Miss. class 4A (of 5) Grenada.

After playing Greene County the night before, Demopolis struggled to get into the game and fell behind 17-9 after the first period and 30-12 with less than 3 minutes to play in the second.

But a Casey Cantey basket with 2:14 to play in the half, the Tigers’ second field goal of the quarter and first points in nearly six minutes of play, sparked a 5-0 spurt that closed Grenada’s halftime lead to 30-17. The momentum carried into the third quarter, as behind eight points from Cantey the Tigers outscored Grenada 21-12 in the period and cut the led to four, 42-38, heading into the final period.

A Cantey free throw to open the fourth brought Demopolis within three. But starting forward Dwiuan White had picked up his fifth foul late in the third, and Grenada began working the ball inside to slowly gain back momentum, eventually taking a 53-43 lead with less than four minutes to play.

Five straight Demopolis points brought the Tigers back to within five, 53-48, with 1:50 remaining. But a three-point play on Grenada’s next possession sealed the win.

Cantey was named team MVP by tourney organizers after scoring a team-high 16 points. He was followed by Willie Blount with 11, Dontrell Miller with 7, MacArthur Johnson with 6, White with 5, Patrick Robertson with 3, and Brian Taylor with 2.

The Tigers’ season-long struggles at the free throw line continued, as Demopolis shot 10 of 20 at the charity stripe, compared to Grenada’s 21 of 28. Demopolis also finished the game on an 0-14 streak from beyond the arc after Robertson hit the Tigers’ first (and only successful) three-point attempt of the game.

Bell said that despite the shooting struggles, he was happy with the pride the team showed in their second-half comeback.

“We burned a lot of energy last night,” Bell said afterwards. “But we relaxed and played a lot better in the second half. We made a ball game out of it. I’m proud of our kids.”

The loss dropped Demopolis to 10-4 on overall on the season.

Madison Central 57, Greene County 53

All-Star center Curtis Nickson spent much of the Tigers’ battle with the Madison County Jaguars on the bench with foul trouble, and Greene County couldn’t quite dig itself out of a fourth-quarter hole.

Thanks to their usual strong inside presence from Nickson and forwards Howard Crawford and Robert Jones (who scored 15 of the Tigers’ first 19 points), the Tigers jumped out to an 11-6 first-quarter lead.

But Nickson picked up his second foul late in the first quarter and 6-11 Jaguar center Malcolm Kirkland took advantage, repeatedly scoring inside as Madison tied the game at 19 at the end of one, took a 32-27 lead into halftime, led 43-37 after three, and eventually stretched the lead to 11, 52-41, with 5:30 to play.

But with the game slipping away Greene County coach Rodney Wesley called for a full-court press, and Tigers responded. Crawford hit two free throws, Jones finished a three-point play, Neiko Hunter converted a Jaguar turnover into two points, and a Crawford basket with 2:04 play capped a 9-0 run that brought the Tigers within two.

Nickson fouled out 26 seconds later, however, and the resulting free throws ended the run and boosted the Jaguars back to a two-possession lead. Alphonzo Benson hit one of two free throws with 1:01 remaining to cut the lead to 54-51, and after a Madison free throw a Hunter basket with 10.5 seconds left made the score 55-53. But the Jaguars sank two more free throws to ice the win.

Wesley took responsibility for the defeat, saying he should have called for the press earlier in the game.

“We let them bring it up the court for three-and-a-half quarters of the game,” he said. “Once we went to the press, we got some turnovers and got back into the game … I was impressed with our effort. I just ask them to play hard every game. As long as we play like that, I’m happy.”

Crawford was named team MVP after leading the Tigers with 16 points. He was joined in double figures by Jones, who had 14, followed by Nickson’s 8, Hunter’s and Michael Powell’s 7, and Benson’s 1.

Caledonia 68, Livingston 62

Livingston entered the fourth quarter down four points, put 19 points on the board in the period, and still fell by six to a Caledonia team that, unfortunately for the Cougars, also got hot at the right time.

The Cougars got a game-high 24 from senior Roland Fitch, who was named team MVP in the losing effort.

The game was close throughout as Livingston trailed 15-13 after one and by the same margin, 35-33, at halftime. The Cougars had their lowest-scoring period in the third quarter, allowing Caledonia to push the lead to four, 47-43, entering the pivotal fourth quarter.

In addition to Fitch’s 24, Livingston received 10 points from Tony Harris, 8 each from Tyrone Walker and Huey Williams, 4 from James Bell, 3 from Dexter Speight, and 2 from Brock Williams.

The game was the second in less than 20 hours for the Cougars, who suffered a narrow 65-63 loss to archrival and 3A No. 1 Sumter County Friday night. They will host Demopolis Friday night.