Saturday, January 2, 2016

No. 2 Starkville girls fall in heavyweight battle with No. 1 Olive Branch

Article from The Dispatch,

STARKVILLE -- Olive Branch High School junior Myah Taylor feels right at home at Humphrey Coliseum.

A Dandy Dozen guard for the Lady Quistors, Taylor has already verbally committed to Mississippi State University.

"We've lost one game the last three years at home," Taylor said. "Since I am coming to State, I already feel like this is my new home. I just wanted to make myself at home here and make sure we didn't lose here either."

Taylor helped lead the state's top-ranked team to a 76-68 win over No. 2 Starkville Wednesday afternoon on the final day of the Travis Outlaw Slam Dunk at the Hump holiday tournament.

It took a while but the much-heralded matchup between the state's top two teams eventually lived up to its billing.

Starkville (12-1) erased a 28-11 deficit and actually held a series of leads in the second half. In the end, foul trouble and the inability to slow down the Olive Branch duo of senior Chrishona Reddix and sophomore Katie Blackmon proved too much to overcome.

"I am really proud of the Lady Jackets and really proud to be called their coach," Starkville coach Kristie Williams said. "A lesser team would have just folded up. The girls know now that we can do this. We can compete with the elite teams in the state. That was a big-time atmosphere and certainly a game that showed it was No. 1 versus No. 2. Hopefully, we will see them again. I certainly feel like we are the two best teams in Class 6A."

Olive Branch (16-0) started strong, while Starkville faltered on the offensive end, missing a series of easy shots in the lane.

The Lady Quistors scored the game's first six points and quickly ran the lead to 16-7 after eight straight points by Taylor.

"(Tuesday), we had the good fortune of beating Harrison Central (71-54) in this tournament," Olive Branch coach Blake Jones said. "I thought that was a huge advantage for us. We had a hard-fought game and went ahead and got the newness of the arena and all of that out of the way. I thought Starkville might come out a little sluggish because they have so much to prove and certainly wanted to play well, being at home.

"So I challenged the girls to really have a good start. Even (ahead 17), I thought Starkville would get back in the game and might even take the lead. We just had to be ready to withstand their run and make some plays of our own."

Starkville would fall down 28-11 with Jones missing a large part of that time with two personal fouls. Still, the Lady Jackets kept believing.

Shannon Tate had a 3-point basket, blocked shot and follow-up basket to cut the deficit to 12. A 3-pointer by Eryka Williams had Starkville within 31-19.

The shots kept falling one end and being blocked on the other. Starkville finished with seven blocked shots, including back-to-back swats by Timber Halbert and Jalisa Outlaw.

Outlaw is a ninth grader who was recently called up to the varsity squad to give it more depth. She wears No. 25 in honor of uncle Travis Outlaw, for whom the tournament is named.

"She has really been a great addition to our team," Williams said. "It meant a lot for her to be able to play and contribute in this event, since her family is connected to it. We had to change some things up at the guard positions due to foul trouble. I thought the girls responded. They had to do some things differently than we normally do but did those things well."

A 25-foot 3-pointer by Halbert as the first half expired proved critical. It brought Starkville within 40-32 and changed the momentum in the contest.

"Even though we controlled the game in the first half, I really thought that could become a big shot in the game," Jones said."Turns out that it was."

Olive Branch missed its first seven shots of the second half and Starkville responded with eight straight points for a 40-40 tie.

From there, the contest was nip-and-tuck. Eryka Williams kept hitting big shots for Starkville, while Taylor was ready to equal those shots in her futre home.

"It was so much fun to play in this game," Taylor said. "We knew it was going to be a big challenge. We just had to play with confidence down the stretch. Each team really made some big shots."

Starkville even withstood another brief stretch without Jones on the floor, after she drew her fourth foul. Olive Branch eased to a four-point advantage, but Starkville roared back ahead behind Tanita Thompson and Williams.

Starkville last led 63-62.

The Lady Quistors then followed with four straight points as the Lady Jackets had two running shots in the lane roll off the iron.

A 3-point basket by Williams tied the game at 66. Olive Branch then got baskets from Savanna Geeslin and Taylor. Back-to-back steals from full-court pressure followed and closed out the win.

"You really grow from this experience," Williams said. "You seem what you need to get better at doing. You have to take this as a positive and grow from it. I think the girls will really benefit from this experience. You have now been in this experience and will know how to handle it better next time."

Taylor entered the contest averaging 26.1 points per game. She finished with a season-high 37 points in her seventh game of 30 points or more.

Starkville received 17 points from Eryka Williams, 13 points from Thompson and 11 points from Halbert.

Jones came away impressed with the growth of Starkville. Last season, Horn Lake beat Starkville in the Class 6A semifinal round and then beat Olive Branch in the state championship.

"Last season, you could tell Starkville played with confidence but they knew they didn't have all the goods," Jones said. "Now they have more confidence, more maturity and certainly have the goods. They have a belief they can win it all and now they have the talent level to get it done."

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