It’s not how you start but how you finish. In pursuit of back-to-back state championships, the Hattiesburg Lady Tigers led by as many as 15 points in the first quarter of Tuesday’s Class 5A semifinal matchup with Olive Branch, but the Lady Quistors proved resilient past the first eight minutes of play.
After a back-and-forth second and third quarter with multiple lead changes, the Lady Quistors built an eight-point, 70-62 lead with two minutes left in regulation. Despite a late push from the Lady Tigers, who had three key players foul out in the second half, Olive Branch held on for a 78-72 win and advanced to the Class 5A title game.
“We came out in the first quarter and did everything we talked about having to do to win the game,” Hattiesburg coach Caronica DeBose Jackson said. “But like I told them, the thing that Olive Branch prides themselves on is wearing people down. And that’s kinda what happened to us towards the end.”
By game’s end, the Lady Quistors had shot 42 free throws and connected on 32 of them. By herself, Endya Buford went 14-for-15 at the charity stripe, finishing with a game-high 31 points.
“They did what they had to do to get the whistle to blow,” Jackson said. “They got up and made their free throws.”
By contrast, Jackson’s Lady Tigers shot 27 free throws.
“We couldn’t get the same calls on the other end. You ask your big girls to make the adjustments to what the officials are calling. When you make the adjustment, and you’re still getting fouls called on you, there’s only so much you can do.”
Despite facing free throw discrepancies, key players fouling out and an eight-point deficit, the Lady Tigers cut the lead to three points, 75-72, with 20 seconds left off a three-point play from Ty Vance.
“I told them I was extremely proud,” Jackson said. “Even with the way it was going, I was proud of them for keeping their composure because I lost mine for a second with the officiating.”
The Lady Quistors answered with a three-point play of their own to ice the win.
Vance finished with a team-high 21 points in her final game in a Hattiesburg uniform.
“I really challenged her to be more aggressive in this game, and she really stepped up for us,” Jackson said of Vance.
Melyia Grayson, one of the players who fouled out for Hattiesburg, added 15 points and 15 rebounds for the Lady Tigers, who finish the season 26-5.