By JOEL COLEMAN
It doesn't take Rodney Hood long to make a statement.
Just seconds after the Starkville boys basketball team tipped off the home slate of their 2010-11 season against Meridian Tuesday, the Wildcats standout and Mississippi State commit drilled a three-pointer to put his team up 3-0.
It was a harbinger of things to come.
Hood finished with 33 points and six rebounds as Meridian handed Starkville a 70-59 loss in a rematch of last year's Class 6A title game.
"Our gameplan was a lot like what we did in the State Tournament (last season)," said SHS head coach Greg Carter. "Just try to get up under (Hood) and be close, close, close to him because he doesn't drive it to the basket. He pulls up and shoots jump shots. We wanted to be all up in him when he shot it. But he's better than what he was last year. He was unstoppable. He was unguardable for us tonight."
For Starkville (1-1), the defending Grand Slam and state champions, it was the team's first defeat in nearly a calendar year.
The Yellowjackets hadn't lost since falling to Lanier last season on Jan. 18.
Following Hood's opening trey, Meridian's Sydney Coleman and Matthew Hurn each sunk baskets to put the Wildcats up 7-0 just 56 seconds into the game.
Meridian (2-0) stretched its advantage to 20-10 after one quarter, and 39-22 at the intermission, putting Starkville in catch-up mode early.
The Jackets never led in the contest.
"First half, (Meridian) just picked us apart," said Carter. "They did any and everything they wanted to do. I thought we rushed everything we did in the first half."
Prior to halftime, no Starkville player had more than five points. Carter said it can be attributed to several of his players still getting adjusted to increased roles.
"We played like it was a bunch of new guys playing their first game at home," said Carter. "We looked like a bunch of seventh graders. Second half, I think we settled down and played a lot better. I think it was more indicative of where our team is right now."
After the break, Carter's team outscored the Wildcats 37-31.
Jacolby Mobley, who led SHS in scoring, recorded all 14 of his points in the second half.
Carter attributed Mobley's inconsistency to his demeanor on the court.
"He plays on emotion," said Carter of Mobley. "When you play that way, your game tends to go up and down. It's hard to be that level, midstream guy when you are playing on emotions, peaks and valleys. We've just got to continue to work on that."
Mobley wasn't the only Jacket who's game was a tale of two different halves.
Gavin Ware notched 10 of his 12 total points in the final two quarters.
Steve Brand was the only other Jacket to score in double-figures with 10, eight of which came after halftime.
As pleased as Carter was with the second half efforts of his team, Starkville's head man is seeking consistency from all of his Jackets.
"We've got to be more level," said Carter. "The way (Meridian) played, they don't vary much from what they do. They may turn it over once or twice, but they get right back. They get a little six or eight point spurt, but then get right back. They're even-keeled the whole game. That's the way you've got to be to be a good team."
As for Meridian, the Hood-led Wildcats proved Tuesday they are already a force to be reckoned with as they gained a small measure of payback on the team that spoiled their state title dreams last season.
However Hood doesn't put much weight behind the Meridian victory, as he anticipates a rematch could soon happen.
"I still don't look at it like a revenge thing because we'll see (Starkville) down the road again," said Hood.
Meridian 68, Starkville 46
Much like the boys, the Starkville High girls team was slow out of the gates Tuesday, falling to Meridian.
The Lady Wildcats built an 18-4 lead after one quarter and never looked back.
"First home game jitters I'm thinking is all that was," said Lady Jackets head coach Kristie Williams. "But regardless of that, this is your house. These are your goals, this is your floor, so you should be prepared whether it's the first game or last game. We didn't show any effort in the first quarter."
Starkville's play improved in the second quarter as the Lady Jackets outscored Meridian 12-10 in the period to go into the half trailing 28-16.
"I thought the momentum was swinging our way finally," said Williams. "For some reason, it didn't set well with my girls once we restarted the game in that third quarter. I don't understand. We ask for leadership and we're still waiting for that to be a big plus for us. Until we can put all the pieces of the puzzle together, we are going to have long nights like tonight."
Meridian (2-0) stretched its lead to 53-30 heading into the fourth quarter and cruised to the win.
Starkville (0-2) was led in scoring by Courtney Moore's 17 points.
No other Lady Jacket reached double-figures, though Rebecca Myles, Whitney Taylor, and Jonissa Buchanan all finished with seven points apiece.
Aquaisha Anderson scored a game-high 20 points for Meridian.
Moore was actually playing in her first official game after missing Starkville's season opener on Saturday with a hip pointer.
Williams says Moore is a key contributor and leader that can help the Lady Jackets rebound from their season-starting losses.
"She was a little rusty tonight, but her play inside is going to help us tremendously this year," said Williams. "Hopefully, it will rub off on the other players and tell them 'I need to step my game up as well.' She's a leader and we expect her to do great things like she did tonight."
Aside from the play of Moore, Williams believes her team could greatly benefit from simply believing in their abilities, particularly at the guard positions.
"Our guards understand that we've got to get better at ball handling," said Williams. "We work on it every day. But you can't coach confidence, and that's what I'm trying to build up in our guard play. You've got to have the confidence to know that pressure is coming and it's how you react to that pressure that makes us better. Until we can get that confidence up, we're going to struggle in the backcourt."