By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
MEMPHIS - The showdown at the Forum didn't live up to its hype.
In what usually turns out to be a nail-biter of a contest, MHSAA Class 2A power Calhoun City blew out Class 1A's Okolona 50-37 on Tuesday afternoon at the FedEx Forum.
The previous eight meetings had been decided by four points or less, with four contests going to overtime and two of those ending in double OT.
"We've been working on defense," Calhoun City head coach Daren Coffey said after his improved to 3-0 in games played at the home arena of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies. "We're finally getting into a groove as far as our reaction time and quickness. Lately, we had been a step slow on defense."
The Wildcats (6-6) frustrated D.J. Gardner and Co. all afternoon long. Gardner, who scored a game-high 20, didn't go off like he has in recent games.
The Mississippi State commitment - who hit a buzzer-beater to beat the Wildcats 61-59 last December - was averaging 34.7 points per game prior to Tuesday's game.
"I thought they disrupted things for us on offense," Chieftains head coach Bobby Ford said after his team dropped to 10-5 on the season. "They did a good job defensively.
"That was obviously the difference. We just had trouble putting the ball in the basket. ... It was just a tough day for us on offense. Credit them for that."
Dominique Cook and Demarius Howard drew the difficult assignment of trying to limit Gardner's offensive production. Despite being held below his season average in points, the Okolona star grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out four assists, blocked three shots and recorded a steal in Tuesday's contest.
"You can't give him an inch," Coffey said about Okolona's 6-foot-7 standout shooter. "You give him an inch, he'll ring it.
"So, we just tried to make sure to get a hand up on his shot."
Big man Tabarrius Coffey led the Wildcats with 15 points, while Cook added 11. Calhoun City got a boost with forward J.R. Jennings returning to the lineup.
Jennings, a heralded football player, missed two games - versus Houston and Coffeeville - while he was in Ocean Springs for the Bernard Blackwell All-Star Football Classic. He scored eight points on Tuesday.
But the main story belonged to Calhoun City's defense, which held the Chieftains scoreless for nearly the first four minutes of both the first and second quarters.
The Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to start the game and were able to enter halftime with a 12-point advantage (26-14). Ford had two of his primary players - forward/center Lamarkus Thomas and forward Verdell Judd - sit out the first half of Tuesday's game due to practice reasons.
The closest the Chieftains got the rest of the way was to within nine, as Dilan Blanchard (six) and James Walker (five) were the only other Chieftains to score more than four points in the contest.
"It's just one of those games you put behind you and you go on," Ford said.
(G) Calhoun City 56, Okolona 48
Lady Chieftains coach Arteria Clifton said playing on a NBA floor for the first time may had thrown his team's game off in the first half of Tuesday's game.
But when they finally got going in the second half, the Lady Wildcats (5-6) were too strong to overtake.
After trailing 1-0 in the first five seconds, Calhoun City would take the lead and not look back, as Yasmine Pulliam scored a team-high 17, V'lencia Farmer added 12 and Sarica Coffey had 11.
Quinndella Ford tied the game up at 13-all halfway through the second period, but that was the closest the Lady Chieftains (4-9) got the remainder of the contest.
Ford scored a game-high 32 points, while Victoria Cunningham had nine.
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or email@example.com.