SOSO – Playing on the road and in an unfriendly environment has been a role that the Hattiesburg Tigers have learned to embrace.
That mindset helped Hattiesburg defeat West Jones 70-54 in the second round of the 5A playoffs and back to the quarterfinals.
"We have gotten farther than we did last year," Hattiesburg coach Earnie Watson said. "Two years ago, we went all the way to Jackson. We got beat in the semis. I told them, 'That they have to set a mark for yourself. You didn't win your division. All the other teams won their division, and this team didn't.' They have said to themselves that they want to roll and try to do the best way they can, and that's what they have been doing. They are doing a heck of a job. I'm proud of them for playing in hostile places and playing well."
After being upset in their district tournament and having to settle for a No. 3 seed, Hattiesburg knew the road wouldn't be easy as the Tigers now consider themselves underdogs in every postseason game. According to Alex Jordan, the role of the underdog has become a mindset that the Tigers have learned to embrace.
"We are kind of used to playing in hostile environments now," said Jordan, who led the Tigers with 17 points. "We are kind of underdogs, but we like being underdogs. Coach says to get on the court and give it your all anywhere we go home or away.
"We couldn't get that No. 1 seed and couldn't get that one more home game, but we are underdogs. We face any adversity, and we are ready for it."
Hattiesburg faced adversity early on as West Jones jumped out to an early 11-1 lead and closed the first quarter with a 15-8 lead.
"We started off sluggish, but that what got us going when you start playing pressure defense and stealing the ball," Watson said. "I just loved the effort. The effort was the key tonight.
"They haven't played in 13 days. The last time they played was their district championship. We tried to make it a track meet. If they want to run with us, that was fine too."
The Tigers then wanted to make the tempo faster and changed their offense by pushing the pace and trying to force the fast break in the second quarter. This helped Hattiesburg close the game to one possession as 23-21, but the Mustangs managed to stay ahead and hold a 30-26 lead at the half.
Out of the half, Hattiesburg continued to push the fast break and run the full-court press defense. The Tigers took the lead with a 14-3 run at 40-33, but the Mustangs managed to answer with a 10-2 run and hold a 43-42 lead at the end of the quarter.
"I thought our third quarter (was our best quarter) just out of the simple fact that we had caught them," Watson said. "We were down four at the half and not playing well. We came out of the locker room and made like four shots in a row. I said, 'I think we'll be okay.' After that run, we got the lead and went up, and they caught us again, and I said they were out of gas, and that was their last run."
Jordan scored 16 of his 17 points in the second half.
"My shots just weren't falling in the first half," Jordan said. "My coaches told me to keep shooting and that they would fall in and get steals. Do what you do best. When I'm not scoring, I try to get them involved. If I'm not scoring, we are probably falling off, so I had to step up my game."
Hattiesburg's Jabar Walker and Emmanuel Corley each scored 15 points, with Camrun Norman totaling 10 points.
West Jones did run out of gas as the Tigers pulled ahead with a 10-0 run and outscored the Mustangs 28-11 in the quarter to seal the win.
Hattiesburg will travel and play Pascagoula on Saturday at 6 p.m.