RAYMOND — Meridian needed a spark, and Makeem Roberts was there to provide one.

Roberts helped lead the way for the Wildcats as Meridian was able to hang on and defeat three-time defending Class 4A state champion Raymond 55-49 in front of a big crowd on Tuesday night.

“Just a really good December basketball game. Playoff-type game with the intensity, and we know each other really well,” Meridian coach Ronald Norman said. “Makeem is our swiss army knife — we can put him anywhere on the court, and he controlled the game from the point and carried us.”

It was a back-and-forth game, as Raymond held a slim 11-10 lead at the end of the first quarter behind Kendarius Armstrong’s eight straight points.

Midway through the second quarter, Meridian trailed 21-19, and Roberts got the ball, drove to the basket and finished with a thunderous dunk to tie the game.

From that point, the Wildcats finished the quarter on a 11-5 run to end the first half up 30-26 at halftime.

In the third quarter, the Rangers regained a three-point lead, but Phillip Mosley hit a 3-pointer from the corner to tie the game at 40-40 with just under two minutes left in the period. Raymond ended the quarter up 42-41.

The fourth quarter ended up being the difference, with Meridian outscoring Raymond 14-7 and holding the Rangers to just one field goal.

“Phillip made big shots when it counted tonight, and he was a spark for us big-time tonight,” Norman said. “We’ve got to enjoy the process. We have a long way to go, and going on the road and competing the way we did tonight in this environment was good for us.”

Roberts finished the night with a game-high 18 points to lead Meridian, while Ricky Hinton added 11 points and Mosley chipped in nine points for the Wildcats (7-1).

“Just had to do whatever it took to win the game, and we came out with a good win over a good team,” Roberts said. “Raymond was hitting shots, and we had to come back with an answer and hit shots and make free throws. Phillip was clutch tonight, and we backed him up as a team.”

Jabarie Robinson and Armstrong had 11 points each to lead Raymond, while Keauris Stimage added nine points for the Rangers (5-2).

“Great battle, and it’s always a joy playing a team like Meridian, and it’s an advantage to prepare us for later on in the year,” Raymond coach and former Meridian assistant Tony Tadlock said. “Free throws are a big part of winning a championship, and you’re not going to win against a good team like that missing 15 free throws like we did tonight. My guys played really hard tonight, especially on defense, we just didn’t get the job done at the free-throw line.”

In girls action, the Lady Wildcats won big against Raymond 71-34 to improve to 9-0 on the year. Meridian travels to Sumter Central Saturday.

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