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It wasn't expected to be easy and it wasn't.
That's just the way Starkville boys basketball coach Greg Carter wanted it.
Carter was looking to get a test for his Yellowjackets in the final game of the Travis Outlaw Slam Dunk at the Hump Christmas Tournament and that's what they got.
Starkville defeated the East (Tenn.) High School Mustangs 64-62 in a game that went right down to the wire at Humphrey Coliseum.
"That's why I like scheduling games like this, especially in tournaments and classics," Carter said. "You look at the teams we've played this year in tournaments and classics like Callaway, Provine, Ridgeway (Tenn.) and Lanier. We don't back down from a challenge."
The Jackets, who improved to 14-2, survived a 31-point effort by Nick King of the Mustangs to pull out the victory.
Starkville had as much as an 11-point lead in the first half, but the game tightened up with East having a chance to tie and even win it at the end.
After Mike Brand hit a 3-point field goal to put the Jackets up 62-56 with 1:45 remaining in the game, King hit three free throws and Jalen Selmon had a basket to cut the SHS lead to 62-61 with 25.9 seconds left.
Jacolby Mobley had a pair of free throws to increase the advantage to 64-61 for the Jackets at the 11.6-second mark so the Mustangs had a chance to get down the court for a game-tying 3-pointer. East had hit five from 3-point range during the course of the game.
Starkville fouled King inside 5 seconds and he made the first free throw, missed the second intentionally, but the Mustangs couldn't get their hands on the basketball again for a game-winning shot.
The Jackets won all three games played in the tournament, defeating Strong, Ark., 74-27, Carroll, La., 59-45, and East.
"There were a lot of good teams here from in-state and out-of-state," Starkville senior and Mississippi State signee Gavin Ware said. "There were pretty good teams we were up against."
The Mustangs won two of the three games they played and nearly knocked off the Jackets.
Carter was proud of the way his team played down the stretch against East and learned something about the Jackets during the tournament.
"I've learned a lot and the players have learned a lot," Carter said. "One thing is if we don't come to play and play right, we'll get beat. If we play the way we're supposed to play, we can beat just about anybody."
Starkville seemed to be playing at its best by establishing a 24-13 lead with 6:05 remaining in the second quarter.
To start the game, a basket each by King and Mathew Butler gave the Mustangs leads of 2-0 and 4-2, but the Jackets got consecutive scores by Tory Rice, Steve Brand and Ware that helped them claim an 8-4 advantage with 5:07 remaining in the first quarter.
"We started off a little slow, but as it progressed, we realized what they ran, found out what we could do to stop them and we just executed," Ware said. "We did a good job of running the floor and executed the offense."
Starkville closed the first quarter scoring the final seven points and increased the margin to 19-11 by the end of the frame.
In the second quarter, the Jackets got their 11-point advantage on a 3-point field goal by Ravonte' Gandy.
The Mustangs got back into the game with long-range shooting. A lay up by Latarius Brady got East to within 30-25 at halftime.
Starkville maintained its five-point lead at 45-40 after the third quarter and never allowed the Mustangs to tie or get the advantage in the fourth frame.
Ware scored all of his game-high 20 points in the first three quarters for SHS.
"He had a stretch in the first half where he really dominated," Carter said of Ware. "They don't have a whole lot of size in their starting lineup. They have length and athleticism, but not a whole lot of bulk. We knew if we could get into their bench and get them to bring their big guys off the bench that it would hurt their scoring. He kept bringing them in and out and we wanted to get into their bench inside."
Two Jackets had double-doubles in the game as Ware added 14 rebounds to his scoring out-put and Rice had 13 points and 14 rebounds.
Earvin Morris was the only other double-figure scorer for East with 13 points.
Carter reflected on the tournament and was happy with the way it turned out.
"It was a great tournament and I was excited about it all week long," Carter said. "I couldn't sleep too much Tuesday night preparing for it. It's been a lot of work, but it's been great.
"(SHS athletic director) Dr. (Stan) Miller deserves a lot of credit for this. He did most of the leg work. He, Brenda Parker and Vivian Curry did a great job and our booster club has been excellent these last three days. As far as the volunteers, we've had a lot of people step up to make this a successful tournament."