WEST POINT – The Starkville Yellowjackets played their first official basketball game of the season on Saturday afternoon since winning the Mississippi High School Activities Association Grand Slam Championship in Jackson last March.
The also defending Class 6A state champions picked right back up where they left off by winning.
Starkville jumped out to a 27-19 halftime lead, extended it early in the second half and had to hold on for a 69-54 victory against the Noxubee County Tigers at the West Point Classic.
Even though their play was sloppy at times, coach Greg Carter liked his Jackets performance in West Point more than the one in the Brandon Jamboree one week ago.
"It was a good win, a great win," Carter said. "Considering where we were last weekend, we're better than where we were then. We've just got to keep improving. Game by game, we've got to get better. We've still got plenty of room for improvement, but we are much better."
Gavin Ware scored 12 of his game-high 21 points in the first half as Starkville was able to get the advantage, but never seemed to be in the flow of the game until early in the second half.
Coming out of the break, Ware started it off with a dunk, then Mike Brand hit a basket and a three-point shot for the Jackets to extend the margin to 39-22.
"Mike's always had a shooter's mentality, but he's playing the point now so it's a big adjustment for him," Carter said. "I thought he handled it pretty well. He still has some minor details to get better at, but once he beat that zone and had an opportunity to make a few open jump shots, that really got it going."
Despite the third-quarter burst of points, Starkville couldn't put Noxubee County away.
The Tigers made a couple of runs at the Jackets and cut the lead down to as much as 54-51 with 3:31 remaining in the game, but a basket and free throw by Ware put the Jackets back up 57-51. Noxubee County didn't put up much of a fight after that.
Brand followed Ware in the scoring column with 20 points, while Calvin Young also scored in double figures with 16 points. In all, six players scored for SHS, which was playing its first game without last year's standouts Rashad Perkins and Edward Townsel.
Carter said Jaquez Johnson may be available for Tuesday's home opener against Meridian after finishing up football responsibilities, but still may not be quite in basketball shape.
Noxubee County 44, Starkville 43
The Lady Jackets came down the court with a chance to win the game in the final 10 seconds, but two shots fell off the mark and left them with a tough one-point loss.
"We made a lot of key errors with turnovers, not rebounding and missed free throws," Starkville girls coach Kristie Williams said. "Our free-throw percentage was about 25 percent which is not very good at all.
"We understand it's the first game and you would figure some jitters to still be there. I thought throughout the course of the game our intensity wasn't always there and our focus wasn't always there 100 percent. In order for us to progress, we need to start piecing together all the small key parts and be able to bounce back by Tuesday."
After being down by as many as 12 points in the first half, the Lady Jackets came back to take a 28-26 lead in the third quarter on a basket and free throw by Rebecca Myles.
A pair of free throws by Whitney Taylor extended the SHS advantage to 32-28, but it couldn't pull away from Noxubee County. The Tigerettes never trailed by more than four points in the second half.
The Lady Jackets held their final lead of the game at 42-40 with 3;25 remaining in the fourth quarter after a bucket by Jonissa Buchanan, but Noxubee County scored the next four points to go up 44-42.
After the first quarter, the Tigerettes had a 14-10 lead, then extended the margin to 12 points at 22-10 and 24-12 midway through the second quarter.
The Lady Jackets held the Tigerettes scoreless over the last 3:51 to play in the second quarter and went on a 8-0 run to knock the gap back to four points by halftime at 24-20. Brittany Brown scored seven of her 12 first-half points in the rally.
Brown finished with 15 points, but was the only Starkville player in double digits. Weaver scored eight points, Myles added seven, Taylor chipped in six and Buchanan had five.
The Lady Jackets were without Preseason Starkville Daily News Top Five selection Courtney Moore for the game as she was nursing a hip-pointer. Williams was hoping to have Moore back for Tuesday's game against Meridian.
"She's been working hard to get back in shape and these next two days, we'll take time and make sure she's ready," Williams said.