HATTIESBURG, Miss. _ Amid the bedlam of a packed-to-the-rafters Oak Grove Gymnasium, Hattiesburg High School coach Ernie Watson calmly explained to his Tigers where he wanted the basketball to go with his team down one point and less than 20 seconds to play.
“It’s got to go to the money player,” Watson said. “It’s got to go to the Dandy Dozen. It’s got to go the best player on the team.
“If we’re going to win or lose, it’s got to go through him.”
For the Tigers, that would be Cameron Brown, and the senior wing didn’t let his coach or teammates down.
Brown took a pass deep in the right corner, side-stepped a leaping defender and drained the 3-point basket with 10.6 seconds to play that lifted Hattiesburg to a 69-67 victory over the Warriors.
“I practice that shot all the time,” Brown said.
Less than 4 seconds remained after Brown’s swish, and Oak Grove junior guard Jay Barnes couldn’t wend his way through a ferocious Hattiesburg defense in time to get the ball close enough to attempt a shot.
It proved a fitting climax to a game between rival teams that started the week ranked No. 3 (Oak Gove) and No. 9 (Hattiesburg) in Mississippi by MaxPreps.
“Proud of the effort, proud of my team,” Oak Grove coach LaRon Brumfield said. “We played hard. We just didn’t make the plays down the stretch there. We didn’t pull it off (Tuesday night).”
The game proved to be the rubber match of a rivalry that has flared to life over the past few years.
Hattiesburg defeated Oak Grove 53-49 at Clinton Gymnasium on Dec. 3 before the Warriors posted a 73-70 decision on the same court on Dec. 28 during the Hattiesburg High School Coca-Cola Christmas Tournament.
Then came Tuesday night, in a game of such interest that Oak Grove administrators had to turn away spectators and lock the entrance doors in order to avoid violating fire-code standards.
Including the teams, cheerleaders, administrators and others, officials estimated the crowd somewhere between 850 and 900 people.
“That was a heckuva game,” Brumfield said. “Standing-room-only. When you have two of the top teams in the state playing in Hattiesburg to a standing-room-only crowd, that’s really saying something.”
Hattiesburg (17-5) has handed Oak Grove (17-2) its only losses of the season.
“This was a championship-game atmosphere,” Watson said. “This was not only about a city rivalry, a local rivalry, but this was an atmosphere with two good teams. They’re the number one team in (Class) 6A, and we’re on the top five in (Class) 5A, and that’s what you want and that’s what you pay your money for.
“It was a great atmosphere, and I’m glad for the City of Hattiesburg to see this and be able to witness this. Basketball is coming around around here.”
Oak Grove led 30-29 at halftime and by as many as five points in the second half. But Hattiesburg, which hit 15-of-17 free throws in the game, used the foul line to stay in the game.
The Tigers, who went 10-of-10 in the second half, hit eight foul shots in a row to tie the game at 62-62
Oak Grove took a 63-62 lead on senior Blake Roberts’ free throw, but senior Nick Walker scored low in the post and senior Chris Lewis scored on a coast-to-coast drive that lifted Hattiesburg into a 66-63 lead with 45.2 seconds to play.
Oak Grove junior Corneilous Wiliams (seven points, three blocked shots) scored on a turnaround jumper near the top of the key, and then after the Warriors forced a jumpball with a favorable possession arrow, he slipped in another basket in the post for a 67-66 edge with about 18 seconds to play.
That set up the last shot, and Brown didn’t miss.
“Both teams played great,” Brown said. “We just pulled it out at the end.”
Brown led Hattiesburg with a game-high 22 points and three assists. Walker posted a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds to go along with three rebounds. Lewis added 15 points for the Tigers.
Junior guard Dylan Brumfield led Oak Grove with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. He knocked down a trio of 3-pointers in the second half.
Barnes had 15 points and five assists, while Roberts scored 15 points.