As West Jones fell behind by nine midway through the final period, head boys basketball coach Todd Arnold expected to see his team do what they’ve done all year — bounce back.
But that never happened.
Hattiesburg's 10-0 run early in the fourth proved to be momentum too resilient to extinguish, as the Tigers beat West Jones 70-54 Thursday night in round two of the 5A playoffs.
“We battled through the second and third quarter and found ourselves tied,” said West Jones head coach Todd Arnold. “We felt like we were on our way to building back our lead, but [Hattiesburg] made some plays off our turnovers.
"We've shown in the past that we can bounce back, but tonight we could not seem to get things back in our favor enough. Give [Hattiesburg] the credit. They kept making plays."
Hattiesburg's man-to-man defense created problems for West Jones, who played out of rhythm during critical moments.
"We knew that's what Hattiesburg does," said Arnold. "We felt like we had a great plan against it. Early on, we had some success against it. But later on, we got out of character and made some mistakes down the stretch. We felt good with some matchups we had, but unfortunately, we couldn't hit the open shots. Hattiesburg did a good job of turning our mistakes into points, especially in the fourth period.”
West Jones jumped ahead by double-digits early and stayed out in front until the 5:08 mark of the third. Blake Johnson's three-point play [and-one basket and free throw] handed Hattiesburg its first lead of the contest - a lead they surrendered back later in the period.
Then came the fourth and final period.
Hattiesburg outscored West Jones 28-11 in the final eight minutes to win.
"Like we told our guys tonight. We're proud of our seniors," said Arnold. "Since we got our full team, we went 12-2. We accomplished some good things. We were district champs for the first time in 26 years. We are so proud of our guys.
“We thought we’d go further, but it just wasn't in the cards. Sometimes that's just how it goes in basketball. And we can't complain about not having good favor because we have this season. Tonight, we just caught some bad breaks."
Senior power forward Preston Turner got into early foul trouble — and later fouled out — which left West Jones without its “big man” for an extended period of a time in the second half.
"The first time we played Hattiesburg, their strategy was to get up underneath Preston and take charges," said Arnold. "Tonight, he had one called against him and several tic-tok fouls here and there. We try to coach him up, and he's done an excellent job of trying to adjust and keep himself out of foul trouble.
"What most people don't see is that it not only hurts us on the floor when we have to hold him out, but when he's sitting on the bench, it doesn't help him mentally either. It hurts when you keep put your big man out on the floor, but we're proud of him, and he'll have a chance to play at Pearl River next year. We look forward to seeing him play for them next year for sure."
Turner finished with a team-high 13 points. Senior Dylan Page tallied double-digits as well with 12.