By DANNY P. SMITH
It doesn't matter if the competition is against Jackson Prep, Lamar School or anyone else on the schedule.
Starkville Academy girls basketball coach Glenn Schmidt said the most important thing her team can do this season is focus on itself.
During Tuesday night's 56-39 loss to the Jackson Prep Lady Patriots on Tuesday night, Schmidt found some teaching points to pass on to the Lady Volunteers.
"You are never happy when you lose, but we're going to get there," Schmidt said. "We've got to be patient with ourselves. We need to make ourselves better every game. I was real pleased with our effort."
Starkville Academy played Prep in the finals of the state tournament last year so Schmidt knew what her squad was getting into with the Lady Patriots only losing one starter from that squad.
Even with Prep's experience, Schmidt believes the Lady Vols held their own.
"They've got a pretty good player in Laura Lee Smith and we were able to contain her a little bit, but she just plays a good floor game," Schmidt said. "They made big shots and hit 45 percent.
"We played well in spots. Of course, we're still learning about defense. It's hard to learn about defense without playing in a pressure situation."
Prep jumped out to a 14-8 advantage after the first quarter and only held a 24-19 lead at halftime, but increased the margin to 30-20 after the third quarter.
Starkville Academy recovered from shooting 27 percent in the first quarter to shoot 35 percent for the game.
Even though the shooting percentage isn't where she wants it, Schmidt said the Lady Vols were taking good enough shots.
"We are getting the looks, but we may be rushing a little bit," Schmidt said. "We just played a team that was more experienced in big games.
"We need to get more wide-open looks at the basket and be more patient at times. I don't want us to quit shooting, but maybe handle the ball a little bit longer and control the game a little bit better."
Nora Kathryn Carroll was the only SA player to score in double digits with 15 points. Anna Lea Little added eight points and Sallie Kate Richardson chipped in seven.
Anna Prestridge had three steals and dished out four assists from her point guard position.
"Anna Prestridge is doing a good job of controlling the floor for us and guarding the ball," Schmidt said.
The Lady Vols get back in action Saturday for a noon tip against Hillcrest Christian.
Jackson Prep 76, Starkville Academy 57
Thomas Dunbar scored all 21 of his points in the first half as the visiting Patriots took a big lead then had to hold off a Vols rally at the end.
Starkville Academy was able to cut a 71-40 second-half deficit to the final score.
Even though the Vols got down, coach Chris Lyle was proud to see them battle back to make it closer.
"That's a credit to the kids," Lyle said. "We challenged them. I thought we started the game off pretty evenly as far as energy and effort. We got after them in the first quarter. Things kind of went south in a hurry. Out of halftime, we tried to make some adjustments."
Jackson Prep jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, but Starkville Academy tied the game on a three-point play by J.R. Gerhart.
Dunbar's second basket of the game gave the Patriots a 5-3 advantage and he scored six more points in a 1 minute span to increase the margin to 9-5.
A three-pointer by Adam Crittenden and a pair of free throws by Gerhart put the Vols up for the final time in the game at 10-9 at the 4:06 mark of the first quarter. Five-straight points by Dunbar and a three-pointer by Douglas Haick helped Prep take a 17-10 lead.
"You've got to credit Jackson Prep because they've got a tremendous ballclub," Lyle said. "Coach (David) Horner does a great job with them and they knocked down shots. That was really the difference during that stage of the game."
After experiencing a win against Lamar School in its first outing of the season, Starkville Academy has now tasted the sting of defeat for the first time.
Lyle hopes the loss serves as a wake-up call for the Vols.
"Usually, it's hard to learn anything after a win," Lyle said. "You come back and work hard, but
still 16- and 17-year-old kids don't really learn a whole lot. When you lose and lose like we did, there's a lot of stuff to build on."
Jon Michael Robinson scored 16 points to lead SA in the scoring column, while Gerhart also scored in double figures with 11.
The Vols play the back end of the Saturday doubleheader with Hillcrest Christian beginning at 2 p.m.