It's easy to start a game out on a hot streak and take an early lead. It's another thing all together to finish strong and get the victory.
For the Starkville High School boys' basketball team, starting strong has been easy, but closing out has been the difficult part.
The Yellowjackets jumped out to an early lead and were able to hold onto it on their way to a 69-59 win over West Point Saturday night in the Beehive.
"We have been talking about getting off to a good start for two weeks now," SHS head coach Greg Carter said. "The last couple of games we got off to good starts and hadn't finished. (Saturday) was about getting out off to a good start and keeping it up for the whole game."
The Green Wave took an early 2-0 lead in the opening quarter. That was the last time West Point held the lead.
The Jackets answered with six points to take a 6-2 lead in the first quarter. The Green Wave got it to 6-5, but the Jackets stepped up the defense and found a rhythm on offense.
"I got hyped," sophomore guard Caleb Wilson said of the first quarter. "West Point is a rivalry game. I just try to play to the best of my ability. I have been playing good these last few games. I am just trying to get better every single day."
Starkville entered the second quarter with a 20-7 lead.
The Jackets carried over the good start to the second quarter. They pushed their lead out to 26-12. West Point started to chip away.
The Wave found themselves down 29-23 with less than 2 minutes remaining in the first half. The Jackets scored the next three points to make it 32-23 at halftime.
The Wave continued to fight back in the third quarter. The Jackets pushed their lead out again and led 51-35 late in the third quarter.
West Point finished the quarter on a 5-1 run capped off by A.J. Jones's 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 52-40 heading to the final quarter.
The Wave fed off the momentum and cut the lead to four at 61-57.
Starkville's Richard Evans answered with a floater in the lane to make it 63-57. West Point again made it a four-point game at 63-59.
"We have to learn how to win close ones rather than play not to lose," Carter said. "We kind of got a little hesitant at times. We took some bad shots, but we kept battling and held on."
The Jackets shut out the Green Wave for the remainder of the game and made free throws down the stretch to ice the game.
"We just need to try to finish games," Wilson said. "We need to finish the whole thing. They came back on us but we stayed strong and finished out."
The Jackets were led by Evans' 19 points. Wilson added 15 points while Avonte' Amos had 11 to round out the double-digit scorers. Zeb Rice and Fontavious Smith both had six points and did all their scoring in the first half.
"I think we need it every night," Carter said of spreading out the offense. "We can't depend on one guy. We don't have that one guy capable of scoring 30 every night."
Wilson's intensity and leadership was seen by his coach.
"I thought he played pretty well," Carter said. "He's getting better. I stay on him a little bit. He kind of gets frustrated at times, but (Saturday) I thought he played really well."
For a sophomore, Wilson has been leading and is trying to get better everyday.
"To get wins, we just have to do everything we can every night," Wilson said. "We have to hustle. Anytime we play better defense we have a better chance to win games."
Starkville must continue that intensity when it plays at Columbus in another rivalry game Tuesday night.