Coahoma County High School will be in the Class 2A Mississippi High School Activities Association boys basketball state championship game for the fourth time in five years.
The Red Panthers (9-2, 4-2) will face Newton at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson at 3 p.m. Friday. CCHS, the defending state champion, has won three out of the past four titles.
“I’m just happy for those guys, especially the ones that have never been there,” said Coahoma County coach Derrick Moore of getting back to the championship game.
However, getting on the brink of a championship has been different in 2020-21. The Red Panthers only played six regular season games on the court due to the COVID pandemic and had several new players from Coahoma Early College High School. The former Tigers transferred to Coahoma County after CECHS went to a true early college format.
“We brought in the old team for a scrimmage every practice,” Moore said. “That was the only way we could generate some kind of game.”
The Red Panthers have had to pull off the last three playoff wins down the stretch. Since Coahoma County finished second in Region 3-2A, two of those wins were on opposing courts.
Coahoma County defeated Bay Springs 70-61 in overtime in the semifinals at the Mississippi Coliseum on Tuesday. The Red Panthers erased a seven-point halftime deficit at New Site Saturday to win 58-52. They erased a 17-point halftime deficit at Pisgah in Brandon on Thursday to win 53-51.
The Red Panthers outscored Bay Springs 15-6 in overtime to win. CCHS defeated Bay Springs in the 2018 state championship game. Bay Springs defeated CCHS by two points in the 2019 state semifinals, but the Red Panthers found a way to pull it off in 2021.
Martin Williams had 14 points on four 3-pointers, Tyler Martin had 12, Jermell Daniels had 21, Amarian Phillips had 10, Anthony Williams had eight, Harlem Bell had six, Chris Abby had three, Demarjay Rucker had three, and Cameron Eagins had two.
“I’m proud of the proud of those guys for the simple fact that they won, but I’m always finding things we can do better,” Moore said.
Moore said the Red Panthers have to rebound and shoot free throws better in the championship. Daniels, a senior transfer from CECHS, missed 13 of the team’s 18 free throws.
“We’ve got to get in the gym and critique on free throws,” Moore said. “My bigs are boxing out, but my guards are not coming in on rebounds.”
Moore was proud of his team for finding a way to win when the athletes did not have their best game.
“That’s the good part about it,” Moore said. “When you win, you’ve got another chance to do right.
“We defended really well. That team likes to get out in transition. We defended that for the most part, but we got in foul trouble and that hurt us.”
The Red Panthers connected on 10 3-pointers as a team at New Site.
Martin Williams led the Red Panthers with 17 points. He connected on five 3-pointers all in the second half to help the comeback.
Phillips had 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Abby had the other 3-pointer for his three points.
Cameron Bell had two points, Anthony Williams had two, Martin had 13 with eight of them coming in the fourth quarter, Daniels had six, and Harlem Bell had one.
Going into the playoffs, Moore said his team could not fall behind because it had not been tested in those situations.
After the comebacks, he was proud of the determination.
“It’s good that we’re showing that, but we didn’t rebound the ball well,” Moore said. “We didn’t make open shots.”
When those things started to change, Moore said CCHS got back in the game.
“The only adjustment we made was we demanded to rebound better, period,” Moore said.
Moore said, once the Red Panthers played better defense, it created opportunities to make the 3-pointers.
“Of course, I’m happy,” said Moore after the game. “But we want to go all the way.”
Martin Williams reflected on his performance from the outside.
“He finally put me on the wing,” Martin Williams said.
He is an offensive and defensive lineman on the football team, but he is also an all-around athlete.
“I always play multiple sports, so I always work on my footwork,” said Martin Williams, adding it paid off against New Site.
Phillips did what was necessary from the outside, but he knows the job is not finished until the final game.
“It feels good today, but tomorrow we’re back to work,” he said.
Daniels finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, four steals and one block for a double-double against Pisgah and hit the game-winning shot.
“He did not have a good game,” Moore said. “Let’s make that clear. He probably had a triple-double with turnovers.”
Moore praised Daniels’ ability to come through in the clutch.
“When the team got back on the floor and was all together, had various rebounders and facilitators, he got the clutch in him,” Moore said. “He said, ‘I want the ball.’ He looked at me and waived everybody off.”
The game at Pisgah was the first time all season the Red Panthers came back from a large deficit.
“It’s good to experience something like that, to have the ability to come back, but you don’t want to make that a habit having to come back,” Moore said.
Moore said the Red Panthers have been able to make many of those large comebacks in the playoffs through the years because they prepare for those situations.
Abby had four points at Pisgah, Anthony Williams had 10, Martin had eight, Phillips had three, Rucker had two, Martin Williams had three, and Montavious Winfield had three.