Wildcats claw out win at 5A state tournament

By Staff
JUMP SHOT Meridian's Keno LeFlore goes up for the jumper against Hattiesburg. The Wildcats won the game, 65-61. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Jeff Byrd/staff writer
Feb. 27, 2002
JACKSON In a battle of cats at the Big House, the Meridian Wildcats had the sharper claws scratching out a hard-fought 65-61 win over Hattiesburg here at the Class 5A Boys State Tournament at the Mississippi Coliseum.
Meridian, now 21-11, moves on to the 5A semifinals against South State champion Harrison Central on Monday night at 8 p.m. Hattiesburg finishes its season at 30-8.
To illustrate how competitive this game was, there were eight lead changes and eight ties in the second half alone. Back in early January, Meridian pulled out a 68-66 double-overtime win over the Tigers.
Wildcat head coach Ernie Watson said he expected another such battle.
Watson was prophetic.
With 2:15 to play, Jamaine Winfield made one of two foul shots to put the Wildcats up 59-55. The Tigers answered behind Bryant, their junior guard.
Matched up against Quann Carlisle, who had kept him scoreless in the fourth quarter, Bryant finally uncorked his fourth made three-pointer of the second half and drew a foul in the process. He made the free throw for a four-point play with 1:53 left, tying the game for the seventh time in the half at 59-all.
Keno Leflore hit an eight-foot cutter to put Meridian back in front. Bryant answered hitting a 16-foot jumper dead-locking the game for the final time at 61-61 with 1:22 to play.
Meridian used its physical play to draw another foul and Mark Walker went to the line for two shots. He made the back end for a 62-61 advantage with 57.3 seconds left. The Tigers then turned the ball over on the inbound. Meridian capitalized with Jason Windom drawing a foul. He made one of two to make it a two-point game at 63-61 with 50 seconds left.
A wild sequence of steals and turnovers ensued next. The Wildcats' Fred Cole stopped the next Tiger threat by intercepting a pass in the lane. The Tigers came back swiping away the ball once Meridian went into its delay set back inside its own front-court.
On the break, Hattiesburg's Alton Robinson rushed his would-be tying lay-in. Meridian grabbed the rebound and tried a long pass down court to Winfield. A Hattiesburg player tried to run down the pass but was forced to just bat the ball back in bounds right into the hands of Winfield who held on until being fouled with 11.5 seconds left.
Winfield calmly made both free throws to put the Wildcats up four at 65-61. Bryant's final shot came up short sending Meridian to the semifinals.
Leflore, who had 10 points, said the Wildcats were bit uneven on offense but got through it.
Hattiesburg's largest lead was six points, that coming mid-way through the second quarter at 24-18. Winfield answered scoring the next seven points. The run included a three-pointer and a 16-foot jumper, putting Meridian up at 25-24. It was 30-28, Meridian, at the half.
Bryant came out and knocked down the first of three, third quarter treys to put the Tigers back in front 33-32. The shot started a swing of eight lead changes. A steal and layup by Carlisle tied it at 45-45 as the game went to the fourth quarter.
Meridian ended the night making 23 of 30 free throws. Winfield and Cole each had 14 for the Wildcats. Carlisle chipped in seven and Matthew Gonzales had six.
Bryant's 23 led all scorers. James Hollingsworth added 12 for Hattiesburg.

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