The play of Gavin Ware (20), Tory Rice (32) and Steve Brand (5) will be key for Starkville advancing through the Class 5A basketball playoff bracket. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
The Starkville Yellowjackets want to make a deep run in the playoffs which they hope eventually ends with them holding up the Class 5A State Championship trophy.
SHS junior Tory Rice says there's one way to make that happen.
"We feel real good going into the playoffs as long as we stay together and we're one team," Rice said. "We want to play together and continue to take everybody serious."
That process begins tonight at home when the Jackets host Lake Cormorant in the first round of the North Class 5A Tournament. The tip is set for 7 p.m. at the Beehive.
Starkville coach Greg Carter said sometimes hosting an unknown opponent at this time of the year can be a cause for concern in an elimination situation.
"It's a one-game season," Carter said. "Two years ago, we played a team out of DeSoto County and the halftime score was 4-2 so you don't know what to expect.
"If you've made it this far, you've done something well. Anybody can lose at this point and anybody can put together a good enough gameplan to beat you."
It appeared that the Canton Tigers were on their way to doing so against the Jackets in the championship game of the Region 3, District 4 Tournament last Friday at Neshoba Central.
Canton made an 8-0 run to open the second half to take a 24-22 lead on Starkville.
Carter said the Jackets got in trouble because of missed shots, but were able to overcome the struggles.
Later in that same game Starkville showed just how good it could be by going on a 40-4 run to take control.
"We had a good stretch from about the 2 minute mark of the third quarter to the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter," Carter said. "Once we took the lead and there was a fear of losing, we played with a lot more energy and we were a lot sharper than we were and were making some of those shots. Our defensive energy went up.
"We usually don't go through those type of stretches where we don't make shots. We've got a lot of players on this team that can make shots and are pretty well balanced."
The Jackets (25-3) have Jacolby Mobley, Steven and Mike Brand that can get hot outside at any time, then there's Rice and Mississippi State signee Gavin Ware that can clean up things inside.
Carter said the play of Rice was key in the second half against Canton.
"He dominated the boards and we gave it to him on the block and he scored," Carter said. "When we shot and missed, he got offensive rebounds. During a 3-minute stretch, they had no answer for him."
Rice points to the reason for his success as being practicing hard and "giving it everything I've got."
When it comes to Lake Cormorant, Carter said Starkville has to contain its strength.
"They are not real big, but quick and they like to play to the basket," Carter said. "They drive in the lane, then kick it out for 3s or dump it off for layups."
While the Lake Cormorant boys come south today, the Starkville girls head north as their first-round North Class 5A game against Center Hill was postponed one day due to travel concerns caused by winter precipitation.
The tip is still set for 6 p.m.
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