MOUNT PLEASANT – Michael James finished what he started Tuesday night.
The sophomore sparked a fast start and helped closed the door as H.W. Byers beat Tremont 47-36 in the first round of the Class 1A state basketball playoffs.
Byers (18-1), ranked No. 10 by the Daily Journal, will host Okolona in the second round Thursday.
The Lions were cruising along with a 30-15 lead after three quarters when Tremont (18-8) finally made its move. The Eagles opened the fourth on an 11-0 run to draw within four, but Byers responded with a 6-0 spurt.
A steal and layup by James made it 36-26 with 2:05 left. He also made four free throws in the final 35 seconds.
“If he would’ve played bad tonight, it would’ve been ugly,” Byers coach James Sales said. “He made some key shots, key drives.”
The Lions ran out to an 11-4 lead after one quarter, which allowed them to really pin down Tremont defensively. For the game, the Eagles shot 14 of 49 (28.6%) from the field and just 4 of 18 (22.2%) from 3-point range.
Tremont could hardly crack Byers’ 2-3 zone defense.
“They extend it so much,” Tremont coach Brady Ramey said. “Then they’ve got the shot blocker inside, and it makes it tough. Our post players were very tentative the first half, kind of scared of getting their shot blocked instead of taking it right at him.”
That shot blocker is 6-foot-3 Devin Moore. The junior had four rejections to go with eight points, six rebounds and three steals.
Cedric Watson added 10 points for Byers.
Devin Pounders scored 10 for Tremont.
Turning Point: After Tremont got within 30-26, Byers scored six-straight points – all on layups.
Point Maker: James shot 6 of 9 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free throw line.
Talking Point: “That was my plan, if I could get (ahead) and concentrate on the defensive end and allow our defense to dictate our offense.” – Sales