By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
Southeast Lauderdale topped its own first act.
After completing a season sweep of Kemper County, which the Tigers hadn't beaten in eight years, on Tuesday in the first round of the Division 5-3A tournament, the Southeast boys basketball team accomplished something even bigger Thursday. Rallying from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, the Tigers stormed past Choctaw Central 54-48 and earned its first trip to a division championship game in nearly a quarter century.
"We haven't been in a position to win a district championship in 23 years, and now they have the opportunity to do so," Southeast coach Centel Truman said. "For a program to be down, and for the kids to go through all that pain and adversity, and now they have the opportunity to do something special. And I'm proud of them."
Getting there certainly wasn't easy. Nip and tuck throughout, the largest lead during the first three quarters was the seven point advantage Choctaw had as the third quarter closed following a late 3-pointer from Demarquis Wilson. Sandwiching buckets from Trey Lilly and Dalton Clegg around a lone Southeast free throw, the Warriors appeared ready to put the Tigers away when they went up 48-38 with 6:57 remaining.
Southeast, though, had other ideas.
"We rely on our defense," Truman said. "I don't have a lot of great scorers, but what we do, is we guard pretty well. We take a lot of pride on the defensive end.
"We told them that we need to do what we do, and bring it on the defensive end. To play with intensity, and they brought it."
Leaning on that defense, the Tigers forced turnovers on four straight possessions to help spark the rally. With its defense locking down Choctaw, Southeast efficiently attacked on offense. Following the Clegg basket that pushed the lead to double digits for the first time, Southeast answered right back when Jawhun Malone scored 19 seconds later. And the Tigers then scored on four more straight trips, getting scores from Damien Willis, Jonathan Tilman, Jake Smith and DeMario Malone to tie the game at 48 with 4:30 left.
Southeast broke the deadlock a little more than three minutes later when Tilman beat his man for an open drive to the basket with 1:15 left. After another empty Choctaw possession, Tilman again drove to the hoop for a score with 42 seconds left to make it a two-possession game, and tying the Tigers' biggest lead of the game. 22 tacked on a pair of free throws with 11 seconds left to seal it.
"We were running our dribble offense, our motion offense," Truman said about the back-to-back baskets from 25. "We knew that if we could get the floor spread, and keep our spacing, that we could get in the lane and finish and make baskets.
"That's what we did. We kept the floor spread, and worked our bread-and-butter offense. I've always believed to run what the kids are most comfortable in and that's what we did."
Southeast was led by Smith, who drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the first half on his way to a game-high 14 points. Malone added 11 points and 13 rebounds, while Tilman finished with 10. The Warriors also placed three in double figures, led by Wilson's 12 points, all coming on 3s. Clegg and Lilly each finished with 10.
No. 1-seeded Heidelberg held on to beat No. 5 seed Newton in the boys District 5 3-A tournament Thursday night.
Darius Taylor led the Oilers on the night with 15 points while Tony Arrington scored 13 as well for Heidelberg. Newton was led by Keodrick Hillie and Tyler Pace, who both scored 11 points for the Tigers in the loss.
The two teams traded blows in the first half and headed into the break tied at 27. However, the Oilers were able to pull away late in the third quarter to take a 45-38 lead into the fourth quarter.
Newton cut the lead to 57-56 with less than a minute to play in regulation, but that is as far as the Tigers would get. With Newton dribbling up the court with an opportunity to take the lead, Arrington poked the ball free and dashed down the court for a layup to give the Oilers a 59-56 lead. Newton’s Michael McCure hit a long-range jump shot to bring the lead back down to one on Newton’s next possession. However, Heidelberg was able to hit its free throws and force the Tigers into a turnover on their next possession to ice the victory.
With the win, Heidelberg will play Southeast Lauderdale at 8:30 p.m. today for the District 5-3A championship.