The fans and supporters that watched the John F. Kennedy Lady Hornets and the Shaw Hawks High School win the girls and boys 1A state championships on Thursday hung around to see if the Trojans could beat the Falcons for the 3A title on Friday and make it a perfect trifecta in Jackson for Bolivar County.
The Trojans, however, ran into a mean buzzsaw as the Falcons won their second straight state title with a 50-35 victory. East Side finished its season at 27-6, while Velma Jackson ended its title season with a 23-game winning and a final record of 34-2.
The game started out like it was going to be a good day for the Trojans. In the first quarter, East Side’s Bobby Jones made a basket and Clearance Stewart drained a three-pointer to give the Trojans a quick 5-2 lead.
The Falcons quickly answered back as Kendarius Smith nailed two three-pointers to put Velma Jackson ahead 8-5. The two treys got Velma Jackson going as the team scored six more unanswered points to make the score 14-5 with 2:03 left in the first period.
From that point on, the Trojans had to play catch up. As the first half progressed, East Side cut the Falcons’ lead to four points three different times with Jon Paul Davis leading the way. The Falcons hung tough and were able to make plays and hit their shots, particularly at the free throw line, to go up 28-18 going into halftime.
The Trojans came out playing well in the third quarter. Stewart hit a three-pointer, Jones made two free throws, Charles Jackson hit a basket and Perry Henry drained a bucket to cut the Falcons’ lead down to five points at 32-27 with 3:33 left in the quarter. That was as close as the Trojans could get as they scored just eight points the rest of the way.
“We just couldn’t shoot the ball well,” East Side head coach Leroy Cotton said. “Every time we tried to make a comeback, we had some untimely turnovers that caused our demise. They scored off the back side and that really hurt us.”
The Falcons were able to win the title with great timing and anticipation. During certain times in the game when an East Side player would make a pass, a Velma Jackson defender would read the play and make the steal. On offense, the Falcons did a better job at finding a good shot attempt and knocking it down. Velma Jackson was also a step quicker than East Side on every turn.
“They were a very athletic group,” Cotton said about the Falcons. “We knew they were defending champs. Fortunately for them, they played their best game and we didn’t.”
Velma Jackson ended up shooting 46.2 percent (18-of-39) from the floor, while East Side shot just 36.4 percent (12-of-33). The Falcons shot 80 percent (12-of-15 at the free throw line, while East Side shot 60-percent (9-of-15) at the charity stripe. Velma Jackson also outrebound East Side 24-20.
Davis, who sent down to the floor on a slam dunk by Quinn Weatherspoon in the second quarter, picked himself up and battled back like a true warrior. Davis led the Trojans with 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting with six rebounds and four blocks, but he was also the only Trojan in double-figures in points as no one else had more than six points.
Moses Greenwood led the Falcons with 13 points, followed by Weatherspoon with 12 points, eight rebounds and four steals, Anfernee Brown with nine points and Smith with eight points.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the Trojans still finished the season with their first trip to the state title game since 1995.
Cotton said this year’s team is special.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Cotton said. “They’ve fought hard to get to this point. Even though we lost, I’m so proud of the accomplishments we’ve made.”