SALTILLO- For all the capable scorers on the floor, it was all about the defense in a Daily Journal top-10 boys battle on Friday night.
It was No. 4 Saltillo coming out on top, beating then No. 8 Pontotoc, 43-34, in a physical affair on the final day of the regular season.
The game was called with 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter after things got chippy with two technical fouls on Pontotoc, a near fight, and a Pontotoc player ejected.
But the big story was Saltillo’s defense, which held Rock Robinson – Pontotoc’s best player – to zero points.
“We knew that Rock was one of the top players in the area, and we keyed on him, and the kids just played hard,” Saltillo coach Craig Lauderdale said.
Saltillo (22-4) shot just 16 of 36 from the field and 11 of 24 from the free throw line. When it found offense, it was usually in the form of senior Braxton Gibbs. The guard scored 21 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter.
His 3-point play with 2:05 left gave the Tigers a 38-33 lead.
With T.J. Hannah struggling to score in the post, the play of Gibbs proved crucial. Hannah finished with 12 points.
Pontotoc (19-8) shot 10 of 36 from the floor. Joe Haze Austin and Dajerious Scott led the Warriors with 9 points each.
“When we had the lead, we should have commanded it a little bit better,” Pontotoc coach Rolley Tipler said. “We lost control at times. Defensively we gave up way too many layups.”
(G) Pontotoc 79, Saltillo 17
The No. 2 Lady Warriors (25-3) raced out to a 23-5 lead after one quarter and never let up.
Amber McCoy led Pontotoc with 14 points, and three of her teammates finished in double figures. Angela Middleton had 11 points, and DeeDee Shephard and MaKayla Boyd each posted 10 points.
Turning Point: An intentional foul and technical foul on Pontotoc led to four three throws for Gibbs. He made three to give Saltillo a 43-33 lead with 1:22 left.
Point Maker: Gibbs shot 7 of 17 from the field and 7 of 11 from the free throw line.
Talking Point: “I didn’t see any use in it. Thought it was better to load up and go.” – Tipler, on the coaches agreeing to end the game early.