CRAWFORD – It has been a frustrating start to the 2010-11 basketball season for East Oktibbeha boys coach Barnett Robinson.
That frustration continued Tuesday night in Crawford as the Titans fell to West Lowndes 79-70.
Tyquan Lucious scored a game-high 36 points for the Panthers (2-2), including 18 in the first half, helping put the Titans down 47-31 after two quarters.
"We didn't play very good ball in the first half and it kind of got us in a hole," said Robinson. "We kind of had to dig, claw, and scratch to get back in the second half and it just really took a lot out of us."
East Oktibbeha (0-3) never led in the contest, but did inch closer after the intermission.
Casey Neal, who led the Titans with 25 points, put up 15 in the third and fourth quarters, sparking a run that pulled East Oktibbeha back within seven points late in the fourth quarter.
"I told the guys if we'd played the first half the way we played the second half, the end result would have probably been different," said Robinson.
Joining Neal in double-figures was Chris Hunter with 19 points and Davontae Lucious with 12.
Even with its efforts, East Oktibbeha couldn't overcome its nightmarish first half.
"We were leaving guys wide open for shots," said Robinson. "We weren't contesting any shots. We weren't moving our feet. We were getting in foul trouble and constantly sending them to the line. We just didn't play very good defense."
Robinson's halftime adjustments keyed the Titans late surge.
After West Lowndes' sharp-shooting barrage in the first two periods, East Oktibbeha outscored the Panthers 39-32 over the final two quarters.
"We just focused on contesting every shot," said Robinson. "The thing I try to tell my team is defense is something you've got to want to do."
While he was pleased with his team's second half performance, Robinson still saw plenty that his club needs to work on.
With time winding down at the close of the game, Robinson screamed emphatically for his defense to foul and give the Titans a chance at a miracle comeback.
Instead, precious seconds leaked off the clock, all but ending East Oktibbeha's hopes.
"There's a big difference going from watching (former East Oktibbeha standout Doug Chandler) and other guys play to stepping up and playing yourself now," said Robinson. "Casey Neal has playing experience, but Marlon Fair doesn't have any playing experience. Davonte Lucious doesn't have any playing experience. A lot of other guys don't have playing experience so this is new to them."
The greenness of the Titans has now resulted in three straight losses to open the season, but Robinson has hopes that East Oktibbeha's fortunes will soon turn around, possibly as soon as Thursday when the team travels to West Point.
"Each game we're progressing," said Robinson. "Maybe we can get that first win under our belt and it'll be different for us."
As for Tuesday, West Lowndes avoided being the Titans' first victim.
"They made the shots," said Robinson. "They made them and my hat goes off to them. They did what they're supposed to do."
East Oktibbeha 57,
West Lowndes 45
East Oktibbeha used a dominant first half defensive performance to pave the way for its first win of the season.
The Lady Titans (1-2) held the Lady Panthers (0-4) to just 14 points over the first two quarters, including just four points in the second period.
"We did the three things I always tell them to do," said East Oktibbeha head coach Randy Brooks. "We played good defense, took good shots for the most part, and limited our turnovers so we took care of the basketball."
Quanisha Doss led the Lady Titans in scoring with 15 points.
Savannah Blair added 13 for East Oktibbeha.
Both Doss and Blair tallied 10 points apiece in the first half alone, giving the Lady Titans a 35-14 advantage at the intermission.
Tyesha Knotts led West Lowndes with a game-high 29 points, including all but one of the Lady Panthers' first half points.
"You can't leave (Knotts) open," said Brooks. "She's just been in their program for awhile and she knows how to shoot the basketball."
Despite Knotts' big game, the Lady Titans held a 47-28 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Brooks used the opportunity to give his youthful bench nearly a full quarter's worth of playing time.
"We're trying to build for depth," said Brooks. "When district starts, we're going to need our younger players to step up and play. We've got four 9th graders that are the future of the program and they need game experience. It's quite a leap from playing junior high basketball to high school basketball."
With the inexperienced Lady Titans in the game, West Lowndes was able to pull within nine points with just under 3 minutes left.
To preserve the lead, Brooks turned back to his veterans, clinching a victory that helps build momentum for the Lady Titans as they travel to face West Point at 6 p.m. Thursday.
"(West Point) has experience on its side," said Brooks. "We're looking forward to it. Anytime we can play the bigger schools, that's a feather in our cap when we get back to (Class A), playing the Weirs and Nanih Waiyas and Noxapaters and French Camps and people like that."