Story by Brandon Shields
For Yazoo County first-year coach Rahim Lockhart, this was the start of the season.
Come on the road for a holiday tournament undefeated and see what happens.
And it turned out well.
Behind a strong start in the first half and free throw shooting in the fourth quarter, the Panthers held off a late Hattiesburg rally to defeat the Tigers, 76-72, and claim the 2018 Hattiesburg Coca-Cola Classic Holiday Tournament on Saturday night to remain unbeaten.
“Guys played hard, executed the game plan, paid attention to detail, fumbled there in the end a bit, but never gave up,” Lockhart said. “Just happy for them more than anything. We felt this tournament was the beginning of our season. This was going to test us as where we are as a team, and right now I’m happy where we are as a team and headed in the right direction.”
Yazoo County (16-0) never trailed the entire game led by Martarious Burrell and Hunter Barron, who each scored 16 points to lead the Panthers. Emon Washington added 14 points, John Lewis chipped in 11 points and Lakevion Dixon had 10 points for Yazoo County.
“He (Martarious) came to play today and showed some flashes of how good he can be,” Lockhart said. “He’s one of those types of kids that if he continues to work he will be on the next level.”
The Panthers raced out to a 17-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and then extended the lead to 35-21 at halftime.
“They came out and hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t respond at all in the first half,” said Hattiesburg coach Ernie Watson.
But in the second half, the Tigers (12-4) made a furious comeback.
Hattiesburg cut the Yazoo County lead down to eight at 54-46 at the end of the third quarter.
Late in the fourth, the Tigers went on a quick 10-0 run capped off by an Ivory Stallings three-pointer to cut the Panther lead to two points at 70-68.
But after a quick foul, Burrell hit both free throws with 32 seconds to extend the lead to four, and the Panthers closed the game out from there, going 6-of-8 from the free throw line to pull away.
“We didn’t have to foul after the three-pointer, but we did and they go make free throws to extend their lead and we don’t make shots,” Watson said. “That was a learning experience against a good undefeated team. Heading into division play, if we play hard like that, we will be in good shape.”
Cameron Brown had a game-high 26 points to lead Hattiesburg, while Nick Walker added 15 points and Chris Lewis chipped in 12 points for Tigers.