Starkville's Mike Brand (5) goes to the hoop for a layup as teammate Gavin Ware (20) and Derrick Coleman (32) of Columbus look on. (Kim Murrell/SDN)
By JOEL COLEMAN
Starkville battled its way past Columbus Tuesday in the Class 6A, Region 2 Tournament to seal a berth in the event's title game.
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The question now surrounds the statuses for two of the Yellowjackets' star players.
SHS never trailed in defeating the Falcons 56-39 at the Beehive, but juniors Jacolby Mobley and Gavin Ware each left the game early with injuries.
Immediately after the game, Starkville head coach Greg Carter was unsure if Mobley or Ware would be able to play in the tournament championship game against Tupelo on Friday.
"We'll wait and see," said Carter. "If they can play, we'll put them out there. If they can't, we'll go with what we've got."
Mobley, a 6-foot guard, was injured midway through the second quarter while taking a hard fall on a drive to the basket.
"He hit his head and he probably bruised some ribs," said Carter.
As for Ware, the 6-foot-8 center, he exited the contest in the fourth quarter with 1:44 remaining as the Jackets boasted a double-digit lead.
"Guy just kind of rolled into his knee," said Carter. "Right now, we think it's just a bone bruise under his knee."
While Ware and Mobley's availability for Friday remains uncertain, SHS's third contest this season against Tupelo wouldn't even be possible if the Jackets didn't get past the Falcons on Tuesday.
Ware tallied 16 points and Tory Rice notched a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds to pace Starkville.
Sam Doughty led Columbus with his nine-points.
Columbus (3-18) did its best to run a slow-paced, half-court offense in the first half to try and take the Jackets out of their transition-style game.
"Early on, we tried to speed them up a little bit," said Carter. "We trapped some in the first quarter and we got a few steals out of it and rushed them a little bit.
"Then we picked up some fouls and that hurt us and we had to get out of it. There's nothing you can do about the way they play. It's going to be a slow-paced game."
Despite departing from their traditional style of play, Starkville (17-6) led 10-5 after the first quarter and took a 24-18 lead into the half.
The key stretch for the the Jackets was a 17-2 run that lasted from the waning moments of the second quarter until the final minutes of the third quarter.
In that time, Starkville stretched a three-point, 21-18 lead out to 38-20 and never looked back.
"We just had to play together," said Rice. "We lift each other up in the huddle and overcome anything. Even though they did slow us down, we just still had to play our game."
The win now sets up SHS's critical matchup against the Golden Wave.
While Starkville's victory over Columbus assures them of more basketball next week, beating Tupelo would give SHS homecourt advantage for a playoff game next Tuesday.
Tupelo has already defeated Starkville twice this season by a combined total of just three points.
"We've got to be able to execute better than we did the first two times (against Tupelo)," said Carter. "First time, we struggled to score and lost by two (58-56). Second time, we had a lead and down the stretch we turned it over a couple of times, missed a free throw and a layup, and they throw in a shot at the buzzer and win (73-72).
"We've got to be able to make some shots and finish the game out."
While he admits it would be a big blow not to have Mobley and Ware for Friday's 7:30 p.m. game, Rice says he and his teammates will be ready to go either way.
"It would hurt on the inside and guard-wise," said Rice. "Especially if the other guards get in foul trouble.
"But I'm very excited and we've got to put on a show and do what we've got to do to win."