Oak Grove had one goal in mind as it faced off against its rival Hattiesburg in the classic Battle of the ‘Burg matchup on Tuesday night.
That goal was to ensure that the Warriors had not lost their momentum on the season, which Oak Grove proved was not the case as they handed the Tigers an 89-68 loss.
The reason for the Warriors’ stress to win was because Oak Grove (10-1) suffered its first loss of the season in a narrow 47-45 defeat to Forrest Hill in the Rumble of the South Tournament on Monday.
“It was a great bounce-back win,” Oak Grove coach LaRon Brumfield said. “Yesterday, we came out very sloppy. We played well in the second half but didn’t make plays down the stretch. So our goal was to come out from the beginning of the game today to really just play hard, play good defense, control the glass, control the tempo and get into a rhythm. We came out, and we did that.
“You don’t want to lose two games. You have to treat it almost like a district game.”
According to Brumfield, Oak Grove’s initial plan was to attack the paint and quickly establish a presence. Instead, midway through the first quarter, the Tiger defense forced the Warriors to shoot outside and kept the score narrowed at 10-8. However, Oak Grove’s shooting was up for the challenge as the Warriors’ Jay Barnes hit three 3-pointers in the quarter. The Warriors’ outside shooting opened the post for Oak Grove and sparked a 10-3 run to close the quarter.
“We know going in kind of how they were going to play some things,” Brumfield said. “We originally said we wanted to go inside at the beginning, but they almost forced us to shoot a few 3-pointers. Once you start making some, the inside game will open up, and we started going there.”
According to Barnes, his team’s intensity was a significant difference in the game and was a reason why Oak Grove pulled away early on in the game.
“If we have a post presence in the majority of our games, then we are going to be good because then people have to worry about the post players too,” said Barnes, who scored a team-high of 23 points. “Then when people worry about the post players, it opens things up for the guards and myself.
“We came here with a different attitude because yesterday we weren’t really ourselves. We had a game where we didn’t really adjust. Then (today), we came out playing hard and got the job done. From the start, the first quarter, we came out hard and knocked down shots. We kept the intensity up on defense. We let them know who we were from the start. We’re the best team in the ‘Burg.”
For Hattiesburg coach Ernie Watson, he anticipated how Oak Grove was hoping to bounce back in the rivalry game.
“They are a good team,” Watson said. “It’s a simple as that. They are a very good basketball team. They were clicking on all cylinders. I knew that was going to happen. They went to Jackson (on Monday) and lost a close one and scored only 40-something points. I thought, ‘Oh, we’re in trouble tonight.’
“A good team like that, you just hope that they are off, and I knew that was going to happen tonight. Especially with the good coach that they have who will get onto them and make them play hard and do all the things they need to do to be successful.”
Oak Grove opened the second quarter with an 8-0 run and outscored Hattiesburg (7-4) 25-16 to hold a 45-27 lead at the half.
According to Watson, while he credits the talent of Oak Grove’s team, the major difference in the game was turnovers.
“This is a different type of game,” Watson said. “Oak Grove brings another caliber level that we won’t see in our division. If we know that we can stay with them in parts of the game, then we know we can play with our guys in parts of the division.
“The game plan was really to just try and survive and hold on and work on our fundamentals to get ready for Long Beach, our district game, and get ready for our district. We started off the game pretty good. We stayed with them and did a good job. But then we started to turn the ball over. They were able to hit layups and shoot jump shots, and that was the difference in the game. They are a good 3-point shooting team, but what you can’t do against them is turn the ball over, and they get into their fast break. That’s what happened. We learn from our losses.”
The Warriors’ defense help set up another big run as Oak Grove opened the second half 14-5 and extended its lead 67-41 at the end of the third quarter. Hattiesburg did manage to outscore Oak Grove in the fourth quarter 25-22.
“I told them in the locker room (at halftime) to go out and try to win the third and fourth quarter,” Watson said. “Don’t worry about the score. We have to prepare for the future. This is not the last game, but if you act like it’s the last game, then it will be. I told them to win the quarter and do the best you can so you can play for the next one.”
The Tigers had three players score in double digits, with Alex Jordan scoring a team-leading 17 points, along with Camrun Norman and Emmanual Corley each scoring 14 points.
Including Barnes, Oak Grove had three other players score in the double digits.
Tyrus Crump scored 14 points, Dylan Brumfield totaled 12 points and Juwan Sumner finished with 10 points.
For Barnes, winning the rivalry game against Hattiesburg was key in ensuring his team reclaimed its rhythm.
“It feels good,” Barnes said. “Last year, we lost the last game when we played them, so we came back with some vengeance. I feel like we wanted it more and came out and played harder, and the scoreboard shows.
“I think we feel good. I think we have everyone knowing their roles now and just coming back and getting ready for district play where it counts.”