JACKSON – It was an uncharacteristic game that Oak Grove found itself playing on Wednesday in the 6A semifinals against Starkville.
The Warriors were in a chess match and battling a slow-tempo, low-scoring game – something Oak Grove was not accustomed to playing. Starkville found a late opportunity in the third quarter to break the game open and hand the Warriors a 64-51 loss, ending Oak Grove’s historic season.
“I thought we played well,” Oak Grove Dylan Brumfield said. “I thought we were executing our defensive plan pretty good in the first half. We had a couple of hiccups in the second half. They made a couple of shots and got some momentum. We just couldn’t get anything to fall on this end of the court. Layups were in and out, and 3-pointers were in and out. It was just one of those things where we couldn’t get any shots to fall. We played pretty good defense even though we made a few mistakes with what we were trying to do. At the end of the day, Starkville is a good team. We are both good teams. They just made more plays than we did.”
In the first half, neither team had much of an advantage, with the largest lead in the first being just five points, which Oak Grove held at 5-0 to start the game.
The two teams were tied 9-9 at the end of the first quarter. The Warriors managed to hold a 1-point lead at the half as Starkville hit a late 3-pointer to make the score 19-18 at the half. The game’s early slow tempo kept free throws to a minimum, with the only free throw attempts occurring in the first half.
“A lot of that had to do with the way they were playing us,” Brumfield said. “They were really taking some things away for us, which was okay. I thought we executed pretty good. We just could never get into a rhythm. We are a rhythm team. We kind of play off emotion sometimes. We just couldn’t get it going when we needed to do it.
“We kind of knew (the slow tempo) was coming. We knew they weren’t going to press. We wanted to press a little bit. We didn’t want to give up any wide-open shots because we knew they could do a really good job of breaking the press and stuff like that.”
Much like the first half, the third quarter started out in the similar slow tempo the game had produced. However, the slow tempo offense eventually came into Starkville’s favor as the Yellowjackets’ 3-point shooting broke the game open late in the third quarter.
“We were going back and forth there for a minute,” Brumfield said. “Once you get the momentum going, it’s hard to stop it. They just made shots. That’s what you are supposed to do. They beat us on some dribble penetration. We had the hip, and that’s what we were trying to avoid. When we had the hip, we had to leave some 3-pointers, and they made some shots.
“The pace could have went either way, but like I said, I just don’t think I made enough plays.
They were just hedging hard, and we were not aggressive off of it. We just kind of laid back instead of being aggressive and attacking the shoulder like we normally do.”
Starkville hit three consecutive 3-pointers in their last three possessions of the third quarter to take a 38-31 lead. This carried over into the fourth quarter and ignited an 11-0 run to break the game open at 54-35.
Leading Oak Grove in scoring was Jay Barnes, who totaled 20 points, Rahmil Thompson, who scored 11 points, and Dylan Brumfield, who scored nine points.
For Starkville, Eric Green and Colite Young combined for 43 points.
Despite the loss, Brumfield gave only praise to his team and his senior class for how much they had accomplished.
“Everything is a process,” Brumfield said. “It is hard to get here. We have knocked on the door for about four out of five years. To finally get here, it was a good experience for us. I thought we could win the game. We had a good game plan. Getting here means a lot.
“This team has done some things over the years. We just keep building on the foundation that we have already set.”