Lady Tigers fall to Olive Branch in 5A Semifinals

By CAMAL PETRO,

JACKSON – Not even a strong first quarter could help the Hattiesburg Lady Tigers overcome foul trouble and sloppy turnovers.

Hattiesburg jumped out to a commanding 25-13 lead after the first eight minutes, but the Olive Branch Lady Quistors finished strong down the stretch to end Hattiesburg’s season, 78-72. The Lady Tigers finish the year with a 26-5 overall record and a fifth straight trip the state tournament in Jackson.

“Like I told (the players), Olive Branch prides themselves on wearing people down, and that’s kind of what happened to us towards the end,” Hattiesburg coach Caronica Jackson said.

The story of the game was undoubtedly the foul trouble the Lady Tigers found themselves in throughout the game. As early as the second quarter, Jackson had to sit starters because the fouls were adding up. Junior Melyia Grayson, for an example, sat nearly half of the second quarter with two fouls.

By the end of the game, Hattiesburg had four players foul out, one more play the entire fourth quarter with four fouls and two more players finish with three fouls. Olive Branch had 42 free throw attempts and made 32 of its tries, including 20-for-25 free throws made in the final eight minutes.

Hattiesburg was called for 31 fouls while Olive Branch was called for 21.

“Worst officiated game I’ve ever been a part of,” Jackson said.

The Lady Tigers also finished with 25 turnovers.

Strong start

The Lady Tigers began the game on fire. Hattiesburg made 69 percent of its shots and had the entire starting five score through the first couple of minutes. The Lady Tigers also used two separate 9-0 runs to quickly grab a 20-6 advantage.

“We came out and did everything we talked about that we had to do to win the game,” Jackson said.

Grayson, senior Kenedi Walker and junior Chelsea Ulmer all had at least six points in the frame as well. Hattiesburg eventually ended the quarter with a 25-13 lead before Olive Branch made a strong push in the second quarter.

Olive Branch’s finish

The Lady Quistors improved their shooting from 38 percent in the first half to 56 percent in the second half, but it was definitely the free throws that gave them the advantage in the fourth quarter. Olive Branch had 30 field goal attempts in the first half compared to just 18 in the second half, and it had nine free throws in the first half attempts compared to 33 in the final two quarters.

Despite the foul different, Olive Branch’s Endya Buford was a big reason for its win. She had a game-high 31 points on 8-of-14 shooting. She also made 14-of-15 free throws, including 11-of-12 in the fourth.

“She’s always a step quicker than everybody else, which caused foul trouble,” Jackson said. “When we’re in foul trouble, we don’t have our main people on the floor, which hurts us pretty bad. She did a good job of getting to the hole and getting the calls.”

Final chance

With three players already out with five fouls, Hattiesburg’s Ty Vance nearly shot Hattiesburg back in the game late in the fourth quarter. The Lady Tigers led 61-60 with less than five minutes to play, but a 7-0 run gave Olive Branch a 67-61 lead. During that run, that’s when Hattiesburg saw its players starting to foul out.

Vance, however, made 10 straight points for her team to cut Olive Branch’s lead to 75-72 with 20 seconds to go, but she fouled out on the next Olive Branch offensive possession, and the Lady Quistors held on the for the win.

Vance finished with a team-high 21 points.

“I challenged her,” Jackson said. “I said, ‘Ty, you’re averaging five points and you play a lot of minutes, so you have to give us some more.’ I really challenged her to be more aggressive in this game, and she really stepped up for us.”

Grayson scored 15 points, Walker added 10 and Ulmer finished with nine.