Jackets get back control of game to beat Cougars

Atavius Jones had 19 points for Starkville against Northwest Rankin.

Staff Writer

If the Starkville Yellow Jackets needed a reminder to take nothing for granted, they got one on Friday night as they opened up Class 6A, Region 3 play against Northwest Rankin.

The Jackets sprinted out to a 17-0 lead over the Cougars. Before the first half ended though, Starkville’s lead was down to just two points.

In the end, the Jackets recovered to claim a 70-51 victory. As valuable as that was, so too was the lesson about keeping the pressure on.

“I think our defense let up,” Starkville assistant coach Qu’varius Howard said of the Jackets letting the early lead slip away. “We got up and I think they kind of relaxed thinking we were up big, but give credit to Northwest Rankin. They fought back even though they were down 17. They didn’t give up. They kept taking shots and were able to get themselves back in it. We had to regain our focus and get back to what we were doing.”

It took Starkville (14-1, 1-0) only about 5 minutes after the opening tip to sprint out to what seemed at the time to be an insurmountable lead. However, Northwest Rankin went on a 21-6 run to pull back within two with 2:47 left until halftime. That’s when, despite surging, the Cougars called a timeout. The break seemed to halt Northwest Rankin’s momentum and Starkville went on to extend its lead back out to 10 at 33-23 by the intermission.

“It was good for us,” Howard said of the Cougars calling the timeout.

The Jackets took control in the third quarter. Starkville largely rode the play of Atavius Jones to put the game away. Jones ended the night with a team-best 19 points. Nine of those came in the third quarter. Jones was aiding Starkville’s cause in multiple ways.

“It was big,” Howard said of Jones. “Any loose ball that he could get his hands on, he grabbed it. If he gets his fingertips on it, it’s his, and he was able to finish down low. We got him to make free throws, so overall, he came up big for us.”

Jones said his big evening was attributed in some ways to an increased energy level after nearly seeing Starkville’s lead slip away in the first half.

“(Northwest Rankin) wasn’t boxing out and we just worked harder in the second half than the first half,” Jones said. “We started showing out.”

Two other Jackets scored in double figures in the game. Zeke Cook had 15 points and Tyler Talley added 14 to help Starkville begin league play on the right foot.
“It’s always good to start 1-0 in district,” Howard said.

The Jackets get little time to celebrate the win however. Saturday night in Pontotoc, Starkville returns to action in the Tangle on the Trail event. The Jackets battle Center Hill at 7 p.m.