Line woes cost Wildcats
OUT OF THE WAY! Meridian's Matthew Gonzalez gets called for charging against Harrison Central's Vernon Jordan. Photo by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Jeff Byrd / staff writer
March 5, 2002
JACKSON They fought hard until the bitter end but the Meridian Wildcats could not overcome their mistakes from the free throw line here in the Class 5A Boys State semifinal game.
A berth to the state finals was right there at the line for the Wildcats but Ernie Watson's team could make only four-of-11 free throws in the fourth quarter and were ice cold six-of-18 in the second half.
Harrison Central, meanwhile, made the free throws that matter as Jabbar Hawthorne's two makes with 5.7 seconds left sealed it for the Red Rebels for a 57-55 victory. Harrison Central, now 19-9, moves on to face today's Natchez-Gulfport winner in Friday's 5A Boys final here at the Mississippi Coliseum.
A dejected Watson said the Wildcats suffered what he described as another tough Monday on the basketball court.
That might explain the frigid free throw shooting (15-of -29) and the general lack of cohesive offense for much of the game against the Red Rebels.
Harrison Central was sharp at the line and on the block for most of the night until hitting a line skid of its own in the fourth quarter.
Sanders, a 6-foot-9 early signee of the University of North Carolina was a dominant force on both sides of the court. He made five shots off the block to go with a 6-for-8 job at the line to lead Harrison Central with 16 points. He also had at least seven blocked shots on the defensive end and countless altered shots by the Wildcats.
Meridian never led and the game was tied only once at 2-2 in the early going. Harrison Central grabbed a 13-2 lead behind six points from Sanders. The Wildcats answered with an eight-point run to make it 13-10. Another basket by Sanders made it 15-10 at quarter's end.
Back-to-back threes by Red Rebel guard JorDan Beard put his team up 21-12. It was 34-22 with time winding down in the half when Meridian's E.J. Watson banked in a three-pointer from near half-court to make it 34-25 at the half.
Meridian did a good job of collecting fouls but could not capitalize at the line going 2-for-7 in the third quarter. A basket by Sanders made it 44-33 going to the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats trailed 48-35 with 6:51 left when they made a mini-run highlighted by Jason Windom with his one-handed dunk to cut the deficit to 48-40.
But free throws began killing the Wildcats. Perhaps the tell-tale sign came with 2:52 left. Harrison Central, up by seven, was hit with a technical foul. Watson sent one player to the line and he missed. He then sent another to shoot the second shot, and he missed too. They were the final line misses on the night.
Meridian, however, had one last chance when Jamaine Winfield buried a three-pointer with 42.5 seconds left to make it 54-50. Sanders made one of two free throws for a five-point lead. Then after a steal, Keno Leflore made an off-balanced three-pointer to cut the deficit to two at 55-53 with 7.8 seconds left.
The Wildcats fouled sending Hawthrone to the line. Both shots slipped into the nets to seal the deal.
Leflore matched Sanders' output with 16 points. Fred Cole had 11 and Windom had 10 for the Wildcats who end the season with a 21-12 record.
Jerrill Beard had 11 points and JorDan Beard had nine for Harrison Central who finished 18 of 27 from the line for 67 percent.