There’s a mirror image setup to Wednesday’s Class 6A semifinal game for Starkville High School.
The Yellow Jackets went into last year’s semifinal with Columbus with 20-straight wins and much momentum. With one game, the season ended for SHS just short of its goals. This year, the Jackets again head to Jackson and the Mississippi Coliseum with 20-straight wins.
SHS (28-1) is reeling off one of its best seasons ever and coach Greg Carter has done one of his better coaching jobs. Brandon (27-5) is there to try to play spoiler to that long winning streak.
“Brandon is a very well-coached team,” Carter said. “I know coach (Fred) Barnes and have known him for a long time. He gives them the freedom to go make plays and those teams can be very difficult to defend because you never know who is going to step up and make a play. This game is going to be a challenge. They’ve had a really great year.”
The Jackets have had a pretty good year of their own. SHS came out with some new faces this year and started things off strong at 8-0 before dropping a game to Tupelo in mid-December.
Carter changed things up a bit by moving Zeke Cook into the lineup at center and Atavius “Tank” Jones got back in the groove after football season. It’s helped his team become much more balanced and harder to defend. Since the Tupelo loss, the Jackets have yet to score less than 63 points and they notched 80 or more four times.
“We went with a little bigger lineup and our focus kind of changed a little bit when we did that,” Carter said. “We still played with last year’s style of play which was running and shooting 3s first mentality. Now, it’s more of a throw it inside or shoot 3 mentality. We’ve got a whole lot better balance now, but it also started with the development of our post players.”
One of the players that has developed from the guard position is Tyler Talley. After getting most of his experience last season, Talley has taken the reins in the offense and been a sharpshooter for the Jackets.
Just last week, Talley was a key part of the win against Oxford that sent the team to Jackson and the Final Four. Talley hit seven 3-pointers and scored 25 points on his way to being the OCH Regional Health Center Player of the Week. He was a part of a team that saw its season end at the Mississippi Coliseum and is hoping it can right that wrong.
“Last year, we lost in the semifinals," Tyler said. "This is a good time for us to get better and go back to Jackson and just play hard."
While Talley and a couple of other players have some experience in the “Big House” from the semifinals last year, there will be many new faces that will be breaking in on Friday night at 8:30 p.m.
With a championship appearance on the line, Carter knows that the jitters might be there, but he thinks his team will be ready for the challenge.
“They’ll probably be a little nervous early on," Carter said of his players. "Most people when they first get into the Coliseum, they’re a little nervous. Once they tip it off and run up and down the court a few times, I think they’ll be fine.”