Quitman’s Anterio McKines shoots a three over a McComb defender on Saturday in the MHSAA State Basketball Tournament finals at the Mississippi Coliseum.
For McComb, this is a sign of bigger things to come.
On Saturday, the two top-ranked boys programs in the MHSAA Class 4A faced off for a state championship. For a second straight year, the Tigers took home a title after defeating Quitman 52-40 at the Mississippi Coliseum.
“I feel like McComb is going to be up there with the Callaways and the Velma Jacksons,” McComb guard Antonio Cowart said. “I feel like we’re starting something.”
McComb (31-1) was relentless from the get-go, eager to showcase its ability to defend and force Quitman outside its comfort zone.
“Our game plan was to play man-to-man,” Tigers coach Hilton Harrell said. “A lot of teams think we just play zone, but that’s just a lure to whatever team we’re playing against.”
McComb held Quitman to three points in the first quarter. By halftime, Panthers guard Anterio McKines was the only productive piece of Quitman’s offense, scoring eight points in the second quarter, but the Tigers still led 21-12.
Harrell’s plan was to adjust his defense to his opponent’s offense. One element of the Tigers’ scheme that needed no alteration was McComb’s plan for Dandy Dozen forward Darius Hicks.
“They got the ball inside to Darius and fouled him early. They didn’t even give us a chance to get a shot off,” Quitman coach Chris Coleman said. “I don’t know if that was part of their strategy but it worked pretty good because we got him a lot of touches inside where we didn’t even have a chance at scoring because they kept fouling.”
Harrell said his team prides itself in being “well-conditioned to go 94 feet for 32 minutes.” It was evident in how the Tigers capitalized on the offensive and defensive glasses, and executed baskets in transition.
As a whole, McComb out-rebounded Quitman 44-27 and reached the free throw line 17 times in the second half, when it shot 70 percent.
“We were burying ourselves deep under the basket. We try to rely on our athleticism and they were just as athletic, if not more athletic than us,” Coleman said. “We could not come away. We got stops, we made them take bad shots, we would make them miss and they’d come away with every 50-50 ball.”
Quitman crept back with under three minutes to cut McComb’s lead to 41-36.
That’s when Cowart made his big-time shots.
The junior, who tabbed a double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds, hit all six of his shots from the free throw line in the final period to give the Tigers a comfortable lead.
Regardless of a runner-up finish, Coleman’s message to his team remained positive.
“This is the best team to ever play basketball at Quitman, bar none,” Coleman said.
Contact Courtney Cronin at (601) 961-7091 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @CourtneyRCronin on Twitter.