On a court filled with three Dandy Dozen players, there was Jahshire Hardnett and there was everybody else.
The junior guard hit two clutch free throws with 9.3 seconds remaining to help Gulfport secure a 64-59 win against Grenada in the MHSAA Class 6A boys state championship game Saturday at the Mississippi Coliseum. The victory gave Gulfport (32-3) its ninth state championship and first since it won in Class 5A in 2002.
“We put the time and work in order to get this reward we’ve been working for,” Gulfport coach Owen Miller said. “We’ve got a lot of character on this team. Everybody thought we were too small. Everybody thought we were too inexperienced. Everybody, including the media, didn’t pick us to win it.”
Gulfport had a nine-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Grenada (23-12) ripped off a furious comeback. The Chargers upped their defensive intensity, swarmed Gulfport’s guards and converted turnovers into easy layups.
Grenada went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead with two minutes remaining in the game. After another Gulfport turnover, Grenada guard Trevaris Spencer made two fouls shots to give the Chargers their first lead with 1:52 remaining in the game.
But Hardnett, who finished with a game-high 30 points, quickly answered with a basket to take back the lead. Spencer hit two more free throws to briefly give Grenada the lead again, but Gulfport quickly answered. Jonathan Floyd and Dandy Dozen guard Dimitri Cook each hit two free throws to give the Admirals a three-point lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
Hardnett, a 5-foot-11 guard with a killer crossover, helped Gulfport get out to an early lead. He scored seven of Gulfport’s first 10 points and helped the Admirals build an 18-12 first quarter lead. Every time Grenada made a run, Hardnett quickly put a stop to it. At one point, he jumped up and grabbed a rebound over Grenada’s 6-11 Dandy Dozen center Joniah White during a critical moment in the fourth quarter.
“The bigger the stage, the better he is,” Miller said. “He’s won 90 games in three years in his career; I think that says enough.”
Gulfport had a 16-point lead midway through the third quarter before White and his teammates started cutting into the lead. White, a Louisiana Tech signee, led Grenada with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Spencer added in 17 points in the loss.
“It hurts,” Grenada coach Jaworski Rankin said. “Our kids played hard. We had an opportunity, and that’s all you can really ask for.”