By Brandon Walker
assistant sports editor
Throw everything out the window — all of it.
Forget the 25-game winning streak, the 33-4 record, the four wins over the defending Class 2A state champions.
Without a win tonight, Newton High School head coach Crandal Porter knows that all of his Tigers’ remarkable accomplishments this season could be rendered meaningless.
With a win tonight, however, all of Newton will have a ball – a big, shiny, gold one.
To Porter and his Tigers, that gold ball given to the Class 2A State Champions is all that matters.
For Newton to achieve that, one final obstacle stands in the way. And that obstacle knows what it takes to earn the 2A championship trophy.
When Division 5-2A rivals Newton and Scott Central square off for the fifth time this season tonight in Jackson, the matchup will be unlike any either team has experienced this season
“I’ve heard people say it might be an advantage or a disadvantage to play a team five times, but I don’t believe it,” Porter said Wednesday. “When those lights go on at the Big House and a state championship is at stake, none of those other four games matter at all. The only game that matters is this one.”
Returning to the scene of last year’s championship win, the Rebels of Scott Central bring a vastly different team to the Big House. Still, it’s a team — according to Porter — that knows exactly what it takes to win a championship under the bright lights of the Big House.
“There won’t be any surprises for those guys,” Porter said of the 24-11 Rebels. “They have been here before and they won’t get bothered by the pressure of a big game.”
While championship experience certainly benefits Scott Central, Newton’s senior-laden squad is no stranger to high-stakes basketball.
Nine seniors – Blake Hodge, Antonio Grace, Shun Beal, Steve Edwards, Corey Denham, Brandon Gill, Chucky Curry, Kevin Donald and Andre Lang — will take the court tonight for their final game as Newton Tigers, a fact not lost on Porter.
“I can’t overstate how important these seniors are,” Porter said. “They’ve been through the fire. They’ve experienced everything. They bring poise, leadership, determination to the table. I don’t know what the outcome will be Thursday night, but I know this team will play hard.”
Favoring a fast-paced, up-tempo style of basketball, Newton will face a team with similar strengths tonight, much like last Friday night’s 85-78 win over Hollandale Simmons in the 2A semifinals.
This time, though, familiarity will not be an issue for either team, with Newton owning a 4-0 record over the Rebels this season — including a recent win in the South State Title game.
“They are well-coached, extremely athletic,” Porter said of Scott Central. “Kenneth Barlow is one of the top players in the state and they have outstanding players around him. They have all the pieces and they know how to win.”
Barlow, 6-4 senior for head coach Darrin Gray’s Rebels, scored 17 points in Scott Central’s semifinal win over Tchula Marshall.
For Newton, scoring punch is not in short supply, as nine Tigers have reached double digits in scoring at least once this season. The Tigers are led by the inside-outside combination of guards Antonio Grace and Steve Edwards along with center Chucky Curry.
Newton will strive for a championship with its impressive 25-game winning streak on the line, though that’s not an issue for Porter and the Tigers.
“If we don’t win tonight, nobody will remember the winning streak,” Porter said. “Look at the New England Patriots. They won all of those games, but didn’t win the one that counts. We don’t want that to be us.”
With one area team assured of hoisting the 2A trophy, Porter believes that the strength of Central Mississippi basketball will be on full display.
“I’ve coached in this area for eight years and I have no doubt that the central part of this state is one of the best areas for basketball, girls and boys,” Porter said.
Tipoff for the Class 2A title game — which will be televised on Mississippi Public Broadcasting — is set for tonight at 8:30 in the Mississippi Coliseum.
By Brandon Walker
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