The Biloxi boys basketball team has blown away the competition for much of the season, rolling to a 15-0 record.
After two quarters Friday night against Long Beach, it appeared that the Indians were in store for a rare close contest in the Adidas Holiday Classic at Bert Jenkins Gymnasium. The Bearcats cut the lead to 31-26 at the half, leaving Biloxi coach Seber Windham less than pleased with the performance of his squad.
“We turned up the pressure, got on them real good at halftime,” Windham said. “They just weren’t playing hard enough. We’re still experiencing that where we’re undefeated, ranked (No. 1) in the state, whatever. You’re going to get everybody’s best shot night in, night out. Sometimes, I’ve got to use a few choice words in the locker room to get the guys going.”
Whatever it was that Windham relayed to his squad, the players responded.
“We took what he said, came out with a fire in our eyes and did the best we could,” Biloxi junior forward Caleb McCarty said.
The Indians outscored Long Beach 21-8 in the third quarter and rolled to a 74-46 victory to clinch a spot in Saturday’s 5 p.m. title game against arch rival Gulfport, which topped Picayune 77-43 in Friday night’s late contest.
Biloxi was quickly labeled a favorite to compete for a Class 6A state championship when Jariyon Wilkens, who scored 18 points on Friday, and his twin brother, Jaronn Wilkens, transferred from St. Martin after the 2017-18 campaign.
Both players stand 6-foot-5 and can work just as easily on the perimeter as they do in the post, turning a Biloxi squad that relied heavily on the outside shot a year ago into a much more versatile team.
While the Wilkens twins are putting in impressive stat lines every night, Biloxi has shown that it has several impressive pieces to the puzzle.
The Indians feature seniors who have plenty of experience running the point in Dontavius Proby and Nakia Daniel. The sharp-shooting Proby, who scored 14 points on Friday, works well in the No. 2 role as well.
“What people don’t understand about us is last year we had two point guards on the floor at all times,” Windham said. “We can just play Proby off the ball. He can shoot it. He’ll play college basketball. It’s a luxury to have two experienced guards who play good defense. Me as a coach, especially being a point guard, I love having those guys on the floor at all times.”
Teams that feature size in the frontcourt will likely be able to match up with Biloxi in the postseason, but it will be tough to contest the Indians’ ball-handlers in the backcourt.
“With me and Nakia handling the ball, I don’t think anybody can stay in front of both of us,” Proby said.
While Proby, Daniels and the Wilkens twins were well known in high school basketball circles in South Mississippi, the most surprising standout for Biloxi has been the 6-foot-6 McCarty in the post.
The slim and energetic post player was determined on the boards Friday night and he led the Indians with a game high of 20 points.
“He’s really gifted,” Windham said. “I think he can play on the next level. He works extremely hard, he’s a great student and he has a great ACT score. His game has really shot up. I think by next year he can add another inch and be 6-7, 6-8. We’ll put some weight on him and he’ll be one of the best players in the state.”
Freshman guard Malik Handy put in an impressive showing to keep the Bearcats competitive through the first half. Thirteen of his team-high 17 points came in the second quarter.
Long Beach dropped to 10-4, but all four losses have come against tough competition in St. Martin, Gulfport and Biloxi.
Junior guard lifts Gulfport to win
Gulfport has proven tough in the frontcourt all season long and it added some nice outside shooting to the mix Friday night against the Maroon Tide.
Junior guard Omar Christian hit six 3-pointers on his way a season high of 20 points for the Admirals.
Gulfport coach Owen Miller said he’s seen Christian’s shot start to come around the last couple of weeks.
“He struggled early in the year and he’s a really good shooter,” Miller said. “He puts a lot of time outside of practice working on it. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. You get to a point where you think you can just throw it up there. He’s getting good shots, too.
“We put a lot of pressure on you on the inside. It gives us clean looks on the perimeter.
Gulfport jumped out to a 19-5 lead after one quarter and had little trouble with the Maroon Tide, improving to 15-2.
“We put a lot of emphasis on coming out and playing better in the first half. We didn’t play very good in the first half last night (against Corinth.)”
Senior guard Marvun Arnold led Picayune (10-7) with 11 points.
Check out SunHerald.com Saturday night for all the details on the Gulfport-Biloxi game.