With a chance to play against his former coach on the line, Pascagoula senior Noel Jones put in one of his best games of the season.
Jones hit six 3-pointers on his way to a 25-point performance as Pascagoula held on late for a 44-43 win over St. Martin Wednesday in the opener of the Gulfport Hardwood Holiday Classic.
Pascagoula, which is ranked No. 2 in South Mississippi by the Sun Herald, advances to play Meridian at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the semifinals. Meridian (13-1) is coached by Ron Norman, who spent the previous three seasons as the Pascagoula head coach.
“I've been sleeping on it, hoping that I was playing coach Norman,” Jones said.
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After a good night's rest, Jones the hottest man on the court from the outset Wednesday. He provided Pascagoula's first two baskets of the game, both 3-pointers, and had 22 points through three quarters.
“He came ready to play,” Pascagoula coach Lorenzo Wright said. “I think he was excited about the opportunity to play Meridian tomorrow. The rest of it was kind of a struggle, but we'll take an ugly win over a loss any day.”
Norman's Meridian squad made it look easy on Wednesday with a 87-56 win over Madison Central in the second game of the day.
“It wasn't something that I was expecting,” Norman said. “But it happens that way. When you move around a little bit, you'll always have an opportunity to play your former team. It's going to be exciting. I've been getting some birthday texts yesterday saying they were waiting for us, just good humor between my old players and myself. We'll just go out and play. It's bittersweet.”
Pascagoula (11-3) finished its game with a total of nine 3-pointers and that outside shooting proved to be the difference in the game.
“If our 3-ball is falling, it's going to be a good game all night,” Jones said. “We have young guys stepping up like Eric Smith and Jonas (Burley) is shooting well. We've got good shooters.”
With the game tied at 43-43, Burley was fouled at the top of the key with 12.8 seconds remaining. He converted on one of two free throws to provide the winning margin.
St. Martin struggled to get the ball past midcourt on the inbound pass and called timeout with 1.3 seconds remaining. A deep 3-point attempt by Jayce Franklin was just off target as time ran off the clock, handing Pascagoula the win.
Franklin was a key player in St. Martin's late rally attempt with all 10 of his points coming in the second half. Daetran Bivens also added 10 points for the Yellow Jackets (11-5).
“Jayce Franklin gave us a really good spark off the bench, rebounding the basketball, pushing and knocking some shots down,” St. Martin coach Charlie Pavlus said.
Pascagoula jumped out to an 18-10 lead midway through the second quarter, but St. Martin answered with a 10-0 run to close out the first half to take a 20-18 lead at the half.
“The difference in the game was the offensive rebounds we game them in first half,” Pavlus said. “At one point, they had twice as many shots as we did in the first half. I felt pretty good being up by 2 (at halftime).”
Pascagoula held its biggest lead of the second half at 36-30 with 7:19 remaining in the game, but St. Martin finished strong in the second half just like it did in the first half.
Franklin's 3-pointer with 2:44 remaining gave St. Martin a 41-40 lead with 2:44 left, the Jackets' first lead since early in the third quarter.
Smith answered with his own 3-pointer for Pascagoula, giving the Panthers a 43-41 lead with 1:39 remaining.
Bivens tied the game at 43-43 with a jumper with 1:11 left.
Smith finished with nine points for the Panthers.
St. Martin will play Madison Central at 3 p.m. on Thursday at Gulfport.