In a Thursday night game billed by fans as the “Ron Norman Bowl,” the highly-touted Meridian squad came out on top.
Meridian beat Pascagoula 53-48 in the semifinals of the Gulfport Hardwood Holiday Classic at Bert Jenkins Gymnasium.
It was an emotional contest for both teams with Norman in his first season as the Meridian head coach after serving the previous three years as the Pascagoula coach.
“It’s bittersweet,” Norman said. “All those boys are my guys. I groomed them from the ninth grade.”
Pascagoula put up a stiff challenge against a team considered by many to be the best in the state, but Meridian made just enough plays to slide into the title game, which will be played at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against the winner of Thursday night’s Harrison Central-Gulfport game. Pascagoula will play the loser at 6 p.m. on Friday.
Meridian’s Ledarrius Brewer came through with a put-back on a missed free throw by Miles Miller with 18.8 seconds remaining to put a stop to the Pascagoula rally Thursday night.
The big basket from Brewer inspired a fist pump on the sideline from Norman.
“It was big,” Norman said. “That’s what your (best player) is supposed to do. He struggled a little bit from the field. When it counted he put us in position to win the basketball game.”
The 6-foot-5 Brewer finished with a game-high of 15 points. His brother, Tyron, added 10 points for the Wildcats (14-1).
Meridian hit the floor running in the first quarter and jumped out to 10-0 lead on a Ledarrius Brewer basket just 2:47 into the game.
Pascagoula (11-4) appeared to be in trouble when senior guard Noel Jones entered early foul trouble, but the Panthers fought back to make it 14-6 after one quarter.
“I knew they would battle back,” Norman said. “We missed a few possessions. When it was 10-2, we missed a few possessions, got ‘em sped up and missed a few shots. They went on their own run and made it a game, got some confidence.”
Meridian led the game 24-17 at halftime and a 3-pointer by Jones cut the Wildcats’ advantage to 39-33 after three quarters.
“They showed a lot of toughness,” Pascagoula coach Lorenzo Wright said his team. “I went back and watched film (of Meridian) and they were drumming everybody. We talked about ‘POTS’ and ‘PORS,’ which is just basically points off turnovers and points off offensive rebounds. We couldn’t give up as many points there. We did a good job of limiting that. That kept us in the game.”
Another 3-pointer by Jones cut the Meridian lead to 50-48 with 21.9 seconds, but Miller was fouled on his way down the court after the basket. Miller hit his first free throw before Ledarrius Brewer got the decisive put-back.
D’yasmond Booker led Pascagoula with 12 points. Jones added nine points and Jonas Burley had eight.
Long Beach 71, West Harrison 67: Darren Cook scored 5 points in the final 35 seconds to lift Long Beach to a win over West Harrison Thursday night.
Cook, who had nine points in the fourth quarter, finished with a total of 16.
“We guarded them defensively, should have won the game by more than that,” Long Beach coach Joel Boone said. “At least we finished the game. We hadn’t been finishing. We finished today. I’m proud of them. They played hard.”
Senior guard Monta Davis had a huge game on the offensive end for the Bearcats with 26 points.
Long Beach (7-5) will play Madison Central at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at Gulfport High School.
Quieran Gray hit a basket to give West Harrison (3-9) a 67-66 lead with 1:08 remaining, but Cook had all the points the rest of the way for the Bearcats (7-5).
Desmond McDaniel led West Harrison with 16 points. Nikko Pittman added 15 and Drelon Pittman had 10.
West Harrison will play St. Martin at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Madison Central 64, St. Martin 57: Daetren Bivens led St. Martin (11-6) with 27 points in a losing effort. Roshaun Jones and Trez Kennedy both added nine points for the Yellow Jackets.