It looks like the Starkville High basketball team has corrected its recent free throw struggles.
Now, the Yellowjackets and head coach Greg Carter have another problem – figuring out a way to finish games.
One night after blowing a sizable late lead to Tupelo, SHS nearly spoiled a 20-point fourth quarter advantage on Saturday, but hung on to defeat Noxubee County 83-80 at the Beehive.
"We go from one problem to the next," said Carter. "We went about a three-game stretch where we didn't shoot free throws very well and it cost us some games. Now it seems like we can't close games out very well. It's like we just can't put it all together as a team."
Saturday, it took four Jackets scoring in double figures, but Starkville did just enough to capture the victory, moving to 13-6 overall.
Jacolby Mobley led the way for SHS with 23 points, followed by Steven Brand's 19, Tay Gandy's 11 and Gavin Ware's 10.
Tori Rice also added eight points for the Jackets while contributing 14 rebounds.
Most of Starkville's offensive production came over the course of the game's first three quarters as the Jackets built themselves a 67-47 lead heading into the final period.
That's when Noxubee County's Dequarius Mallard almost single-handedly brought the Tigers all the way back.
Mallard, who finished with a game-high total of 35 points, scored 20 in the fourth quarter alone.
"(Mallard) is one of those guys who is little, but he's got a big heart inside of him," said Noxubee County head coach T.J. Billups. "He's always been the one to step up for us. There wasn't a doubt in my mind who we wanted the ball in the hands of."
Helping Mallard's cause down the stretch after the Tigers had already shrunk their deficit to 79-63, Ware fouled out with 2:27 left to play.
Simultaneously, Carter took Mobley off the court due to a twisted ankle.
With two of their stars on the bench, the Jackets began to stutter.
"It's hard for us to play without those two," said Carter. "(Ware) is just so big and inside, he can make a lot of things happen. (Mobley) is just so quick with the ball. We had a comfortable lead when they came out and I thought we could close the game out. I wanted to close it out with (Mobley) on the bench resting (his ankle)."
Mallard didn't mind at all that Mobley and Ware were off the floor.
With Starkville's lead cut to 81-73, Mallard sank back-to-back three-pointers to get Noxubee County within two points with just 25 seconds left.
With 14 seconds left, Mallard was fouled driving to the basket and stepped to the line for two shots looking to tie the game.
Mallard made the first, chopping Starkville's lead to 81-80, but missed the second as Brand hauled in the rebound.
After the Tigers fouled Brand, he stepped up to the line and drilled both of his free throws.
As a team, Starkville shot 76 percent from the charity stripe Saturday, making 26 of 34 from the line.
None of the shots were bigger than the two Brand hit to extend the lead.
"The last couple of games, Steven has played well," said Carter. "He's more aggressive now than he was early on and he's finishing plays better. He's playing well, making free throws. We need him to keep improving."
Noxubee County had just enough time for one last trip down the floor for as they looked to send the game into overtime.
Billups said his team executed the play that he wanted, but Mallard's potential game-tying three-point shot missed.
The Tigers got the rebound and hurled up a desperation three-pointer as time expired, but it too was off the mark, dropping Noxubee County to 18-4 overall.
"We wanted to get the ball in the hands of our best player and set up a ball screen," said Billups. "We got the shot we wanted but it was a half-inch off. That's the difference between winning and losing."
It was a rare miss for Mallard, who Carter simply referred to as "lights out".
"We knew coming in he was going to take shots and he was going to make shots," said Carter. "He made some tough shots and he made some big shots."
Though Mallard's play still left the Tigers on the short end, Billups left the Beehive a happy man.
"I'll take a loss like this over a sloppy win any day," said Billups.
As for Carter, he'll take the victory, but is concerned about the current state of his Jackets.
"A win is a win, but as the season goes along, you have to get better and progress," said Carter. "Right now, it doesn't seem like we're doing that very well."
Starkville returns to the court on Monday with a 7:30 p.m. make-up game at Columbus.
The Class 6A, Region 2 matchup was originally scheduled for Jan. 11, but was postponed due to winter weather.
Noxubee County 61,
Noxubee County overcame a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to down homestanding Starkville Saturday.
SHS's Courtney Moore scored 22 points and Jacqueline Fair added eight, but it wasn't enough for the Lady Jackets, who fell to 5-14.
"What do you do?" said Starkville head coach Kristie Williams. "We just gave it away.
"You have to continue to try and find positives even though a lot of negatives are in front of us. We made plays in the game to get us the lead that we had. You just have to press forward and continue to learn."
Starkville led 55-38 heading into the final period but was outscored 23-5 by the Lady Tigers in the quarter.
Jasmine Little led Noxubee County with 27 points as the Lady Tigers improved to 14-8.
Starkville returns to action Monday at 6 p.m. with a Class 6A, Region 2 game at Columbus.
Monday's game was originally scheduled for Jan. 11, but was postponed due to winter weather.