PASCAGOULA - Noel Jones and Darius Johnson each hit 3-pointers late in the fourth quarter as top-ranked Pascagoula held off second-ranked Gulfport 43-36 in boys high school basketball Tuesday.
The Panthers, ranked first by the Sun Herald, led Gulfport 29-19 midway through the third quarter. However, Miles Daniels and Tyrell Williams connected behind the arc late in the third to lead the Admirals (15-10) on a comeback, cutting the Pascagoula lead to 32-27 to start the fourth quarter.
With 4:50 left in the game, Dequarius McCord, got the steal just shy of midcourt, sprinted to the other end of the court and dunked to pull Gulfport to within two, 35-33. It would be as close as the Admirals would get as Panthers coach Ronald Norman quickly called timeout to settle his team down.
"I told my players that we had to make a play," Norman said.
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Jones took Norman's instructions to heart and found an open spot in the left corner and sunk a trey to put Pascagoula back up by five, 38-33. Then, after Raekwon Murphy hit a layup off Alton Conerly's steal and assist - the last basket of the game for Gulfport - Johnson came down and hit the Panthers' second trey of the final quarter to push Pascagoula's lead to 41-35 with 2:56 left in the game.
"His job is to make shots," Norman said.
"We had them on the ropes a little," Gulfport coach Owen Miller said. "We had a little bit of momentum after the dunk and got it to within two. Then we let them hit an uncontested three and they pushed it back out to five."
Miller said allowing Pascagoula to build a 10-point lead in the first half put the Admirals in a bind in the second half.
"When you play like that you are behind the eight ball," he said. "You have to play perfectly at the end. You can't miss shots and you can't miss assignments. You can't give the other team a 10-point lead early in the game."
Although the Panthers would only score two more points - on a pair of Anthony McMillian free throws - in the last three minutes of play, adept ball handling and defense prevented Gulfport from scoring apart from a Murphy free throw with 56 seconds left to play.
"We've been playing great defense the last couple of games," Norman said. "The one thing that we have been consistent in is guarding people."
Entering the game, Pascagoula (19-4) held the top spot along the Coast despite losing both previous games this season to Gulfport. Norman said this is the first time he has led the Panthers to a win over the Admirals in three years.
"We've always played them tough, but this is the first time we've beaten them," he said.
The loss marks the third consecutive defeat for Gulfport. Miller said his team has games against Hancock on the road and Biloxi at home to right their season.
"We've got to find out what we need to do to get better," Miller said. "We are not going to stay the same."
Johnson led all scorers with 11 points, including three 3-pointers. Jacques Belford added 10 points and McMillian finished with eight points. Jones finished with five points in the game.
Daniels and Murphy had 10 points each for Gulfport. McCord was the next highest scorer for the Admirals with six points.