To this point in the season no one could argue with no. 2 Meridian's credentials if the Wildcats said that they felt that they deserved to be ranked no. 1 in the state. With wins over Starkville, Provine, Wingfield, Tupelo and twice over Lanier and a lone loss at Provine there was no arguing that the Wildcats had played the state's toughest schedule.
On Saturday, at Hoopsfest at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, the Wildcats added yet another impressive win to that resume, taking the measure of no.1 Biloxi by a score of 70-61, and snatching that coveted No.1 ranking in the process.
The Wildcats started strong jumping out of the blocks to open an early 7-2 lead. The Indians fought back to take their first lead at 8-7. But after an exchange of three point trips which left the Indians holding an 11-10 lead the Wildcats responded with a 10-2 run to open a 19-13 lead before settling for a 19-15 lead after one quarter.
The Wildcats opened the second quarter with 5 straight points to push their lead to 9 at 24-15 and looked ready to pull away. The Indians, however, had other ideas as they regrouped behind the play of senior guard Isaiah Canaan. Held scoreless to that point the Indians' senior leader scored 7 points to spur the Indians on a 13-6 quarter closing run to make the game a 2 point contest at the half, 30-28. While Canaan provided a late boost the Indians would not have been as close as they were without the play of senior forward Tevin Powe. While Powe only scored 8 first half points each of them seemed to come just when Biloxi needed them to stay in shouting distance of the Wildcats.
The third quarter opened with the teams trading baskets and seemed to be turning into a nip and tuck affair. With the score tied at 34 Biloxi turned a steal and an intentional foul into a 39-34 lead and seemed to have captured the momentum. That's when the Wildcats found their next gear. The Wildcats answered Biloxi's run with an 11-2 run of their own to forge back into the lead at 45-41. Two straight Indian baskets tied the score at 45 before a late Wildcat basket helped Meridian end the quarter with a 47-45 lead setting the stage for a big fourth quarter finish.
The Wildcats continued their strong play to start the fourth as they opened the quarter with an 8-2 run to take a 55-47 lead. Six straight Indian points closed the gap to 55-53, but Meridian responded with 5 straight points of their own to open the lead back to 7 at 60-53. Biloxi continued to fight pulling back within 3 at 62-59 with 1:01 left in the game, but the Wildcats poise and execution in the final minute was enough to hold off the Indians as the Wildcats closed with an 8-2 run to take the 70-61 win.
The Wildcats, whose record now stands at 20-1, were led by the inside senior duo of DeShun Carter and Kenny Brown with 21 and 20 points respectively, while Super Soph Rodney Hood added 14. For Biloxi, now 15-1, Isaiah Canaan, despite a slow start, finished with 19 points, Tevin Powe continued his solid play in the second half to finish with 16 points and Jeremiah Dunnings added 12.
Saturday's matchup could be just the beginning of a series of encounters between the two teams as many expect these same two teams to meet in the 5A South State tournament finals and possibly the state tournament. For now however, round one goes to Meridian.