ITTA BENA • With points at a premium, Ripley’s Asa Howard scored the biggest points of the night.
Howard scored 21 points, including four in the last 20 seconds, to lead No. 3 Ripley over No. 10 Pontotoc, 48-45, in the quarterfinals of the MHSAA Class 4A basketball state tournament held at Mississippi Valley State University.
Ripley (28-3) advances to play Raymond, the three-time defending champs, in the Mississippi Coliseum on Monday at 8:30 p.m.
Down 45-44, Howard hit a mid-range jumper to put Ripley up by one point with 20 seconds left, then hit both free throws with 5.6 seconds left to make it 48-45.
“He doesn’t shy away from the moment,” Ripley coach Adam Kirk said. “The first quarter and the fourth quarter are the same to him. Which is a good thing for us since he’s playing for us.”
Pontotoc (23-9) was held without a field goal until 2:06 left in the first quarter, but Gavin Brinker scored five points to cut Ripley’s lead to 9-7 at the end of the first. The teams traded baskets in the second quarter, but Howard hit a 3-pointer and Jesus Ruedas had a steal and layup to put Ripley up 20-16 at the break.
Joe Haze Austin came out and scored nine straight points for Pontotoc in the third quarter, but Howard hit another 3-pointer and two free throws to put Ripley up 33-28 with 1:35 left in the third.
Following that, Pontotoc’s Tres Vaughn had a layup and Manoj Nickson hit a 3-pointer to tie the game, 33-33, going into the fourth.
With Pontotoc up by two points, Howard and Brinker traded 3-pointers, then Ruedas tied the game, 44-44, on a layup.
Rock Robinson then hit 1 of 2 free throws to put Pontotoc up 45-44, then Howard hit the game-winning shot with 20 seconds left to give Ripley the win.
“I just wanted to score for my team,” Howard said. “I do it in practice all the time so I just wanted to come out and execute every night.”
Turning Point: Up by one point, Cam Rucker drew a charge with 11.8 seconds left in the game, then Howard hit two free throws with 5.6 seconds left to put Ripley up 48-45.
Point Maker: Howard was 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
Talking Point: “I’m just proud of our effort. I thought these were two really good teams. They are well coached and I think we are pretty well coached too. It came down to one play and we were fortunate.” – Kirk.
(G) Ripley 57, Northeast Lauderdale 42: Ripley’s trio of Amelya Hatch, Summer Kirkman and Siarra Jackson put the Lady Trojans away early.
Hatch and Kirkman each hit a 3-pointer in the first minute as Ripley jumped ahead 8-0, and the Lady Tigers (30-2) pushed that lead to 18-10 at the end of the quarter. Kirkman hit three 3-pointers in the first half while Hatch added eight points to put Ripley up by six at halftime.
To start the second half, Hatch scored 12 of her team-high 19 points and Kirkman drained a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to put Ripley up 18 points, and Jackson closed the game out with eight points down the stretch.
Kirkman finished with 14 points and Jackson added 13. NE Lauderdale (18-13) was led by Britney Wells with 12 points.
Ripley advances to play Raymond in the semifinals at the Mississippi Coliseum on Monday at 4 p.m.