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By DANNY P. SMITH
It's a pretty good accomplishment for a team in a home opener to end a 77-game winning streak for an opponent.
That's exactly what happened when the Starkville Academy Volunteers defeated the Madison-Ridgeland Academy Patriots 48-46 Tuesday night.
In a back-and-forth game, the Vols hit some key free throws down the stretch and made a couple of nice defensive stops to pull out the victory and improve to 2-0 under new coach Mark Alexander.
"It's a great accomplishment for our program," Alexander said. "I have all the respect for MRA and coach (Richard) Duease is a great coach. I'm sure he can coach circles around me, but our guys came through.
"I couldn't be prouder of my guys. We could have lost that game numerous times and looked like we were going to lose. We just kept battling and battling. I kept telling them in the timeouts that we worked too hard to give this game away and we've got to keep playing. They did and came through big time."
Trailing 46-43 with 1:55 remaining in the game, Starkville Academy held MRA scoreless the rest of the way and scored the final five points down the stretch.
Austin Kinard started the run with a basket, then Carnail Minor hit a pair of free throws and Matthew Christiansen added an insurance free throw.
"We work on free throws every day," Alexander said. "We shoot them every day and I tell them it's going to be big. In games like this, you know they are going to be close, highly-contested and every point matters. I was super proud of Matthew Christiansen. You don't have a greater kid and he stepped up and made that free throw."
After the Vols secured a 10-7 lead after the first quarter, the Patriots came back to get a 16-10 advantage with 3:52 remaining in the second quarter.
Starkville Academy fought back behind the six points of Calvin Young, including a dunk at the 1:04 mark to bring the game to within 20-18.
A 3-point field goal by Bradley Weseli and two free throws by Zachary Gerhart gave the Vols a 23-20 lead with 21 seconds left in the first half, then MRA scored the final basket to bring the halftime score to 23-22.
The game remained close throughout the second half and a basket by Young kept SA within striking distance, only trailing 38-36.
Even though Young scored 21 points and Kinard was next with nine points for the Vols, Alexander said the game was won on the defensive end.
"We came up with a lot of defensive steals and got stops," Alexander said. "I have been really upset with our defense. I think we will be fine offensively, but defensively, we're not very good right now. I thought defense won us that game tonight."
SA looks to extend its season-opening winning streak to three games with action at Lamar School Thursday night.