Coahoma County High School has a chance to win the Class 2A MHSAA boys basketball state championship in seven years, but when it doesn’t occur, one other team from the Delta will come out on top, and that’s how coach Derrick Moore wants it. The Red Panthers (29-2, 10-0) will face Northside out of Shelby within the championship game on the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson, with tipoff set for 3 p.m. Friday. Coahoma County earned its spot within the championship with a 45-32 victory against Newton within the state semifinals Tuesday on the Mississippi Coliseum, while Northside defeated Bogue Chitto 57-40.
Moore said the Red Panthers were going to be within the championship game, no matter what team they faced, and he preferred it being an All-Delta matchup with two schools nearly half-hour away from one another. “A number of people say, well, you all wish to play Northside since you all beat them, but that isn’t the case,” he said. “We desired to play Northside because we wanted an All-Delta final. My thing is, I would like to win the championship, in fact, but when we are able to win, I’d like to see them win because I do know them.”
The Red Panthers are currently on a 29-game winning streak and won all three previous meetings against the Gators in 2022-23. The primary two were in the course of the regular season, and the third got here within the Region 3-2A District Tournament. “We’re playing a one-game championship game, and that’s our mentality,” Moore said. “We’re not reflecting on what we did previously because none of that matters.
“We don’t see it as we’ve beaten them already. It’s a championship game, and now we have not beaten them within the championship game, in order that’s nothing.” The familiarity with each other might be an element on the court for each the Red Panthers and Gators. “At this point right here, it’s going to be a matter of who wants it probably the most because we’ve played them several times and, in fact, they’re conversant in us, and we’re conversant in them,” he said. “At this point, it’s about grit and grind now.”
For the Red Panthers to have a chance to play the Gators for a fourth time this season, they’d to eliminate the Tigers within the state tournament for the second time in three years. Coahoma County defeated Newton within the 2021 state championship game, 46-40, and 45-32 within the semifinals on Tuesday. But this time, the Coahoma County School District had a superintendent conversant in Newton. Dr. Virginia Young has been the CCSD Superintendent since Dec. 2022, but can also be a former Newton School District Superintendent.
“I’m a Red Panther,” said Young after the win, knowing what the sport meant to listen to. “I feel great. That is the sport I told Coach (Moore) about. I said I would like you to do one thing, coach, and that’s win. He said I got you, and he did.” It was a slow start for the Red Panthers within the semifinals, trailing the Tigers 7-0 with 4:04 remaining in the primary quarter. Newton stole the ball from Coahoma County senior shooting guard Cam’ron Bell, followed it up with a basket for two points, and converted on a 3-point play. Nevertheless, Coahoma County closed the primary half on a 24-3 run to take a 24-10 halftime lead.
The Red Panthers prolonged their advantage to 26-10 with 7:35 remaining within the third quarter. Coahoma County extended its advantage to 33-14 at the 3:36 mark of the third period. The Red Panthers earned a 20-point lead, their biggest of the game, at 43-23 with 3:12 remaining in the contest.
Junior wing Jerasmus Eagins scored the primary 2 points of the sport for the Red Panthers at the two:29 mark of the primary quarter to chop Newton’s result in 7-2. Bell made 1 of two free throws on the 1:46 mark of the primary quarter to chop the result in 7-3. Freshman small forward made an extended 3-pointer near half court on the buzzer of the primary quarter to chop Newton’s result in 8-6 at the top of the period.
“It calmed our nerves,” Hearn said after the sport. The officials needed to confer a couple of moments after the shot before eventually deciding it went in and got here before the buzzer. “We were struggling offensively anyway, and that shot gave us a bit extra energy,” Moore said. “It was an enormous shot. I didn’t even know if it had gone in, to be honest with you, however the officials said it did, so I suppose it did.
“I didn’t even take a look at it. When he shot it, I used to be walking the opposite way.” Young also didn’t recognize that Hearn made the basket. “It was huge,” Young said. “I didn’t even realize he made it. I assumed he did, but I wasn’t sure. I feel that actually gave us motivation to start, get things going.”
But Hearn did make the basket, and the Red Panthers built on the momentum, outscoring the Tigers 18-2 in the course of the second quarter. Senior wing Demarjay Rucker connected on his first of two 3-pointers for the afternoon with 5:59 remaining in the primary half to provide Coahoma County a 13-10 advantage it didn’t relinquish. “I made my 3s,” Rucker said. “I took my time.” Sophomore center Hershel Washington followed with a basket of his own, after which Bell hit a 3-pointer of his own to increase the Red Panthers’ result in 18-10 with 3:44 remaining within the second quarter.
Moore was not concerned after Newton scored its first 7 points in a bit greater than two minutes to take a 7-0 lead. “We never panic,” he said. “It was two minutes off the clock, and we were down, but we never panic.”
Moore brought Hearn, Eagins, and freshman power forward Zechariah Smith into the lineup when Coahoma County trailed. The Red Panthers responded with their 24-3 run to shut their first half. Moore said Eagins, Rucker, and Hearn were key in turning things around after the slow start.
“They were the three primary guys that got us going, and Hershel Washington played pretty much, too,” Moore said. Young was a bit more concerned when Coahoma County trailed early on. “The slow start scared me, but we kicked it up, began playing some defense, and slowed the sport down,” she said. “I’m glad we turned it around.”
Newton had one athlete with three fouls and one other with two at halftime. On the opposite side, no Coahoma County player was called for multiple foul in the primary half. Coahoma County committed six team fouls within the second half to Newton’s three. Nevertheless, the Red Panthers still managed to complete the sport with no athlete being called for greater than two personal fouls. Smith and junior point guard Harlem Bell finished with two fouls apiece. “That’s been our practice all yr,” Moore said. “Should you pick up a foul, we bring you out so that you simply won’t make back-to-back fouls. We’ve got lots of depth anyway, and getting kids out once they get in foul trouble isn’t a giant thing.
“The undeniable fact that you are taking guys out and put other guys in, and also you don’t have a dropoff makes it even higher. It’s because we’ve been practicing all of it yr and doing all of it yr. The blokes know their role, and so they play it well.”
Harlem Bell said the defense was the important thing to the comeback and is looking forward to the championship against Northside. “We’re not finished,” he said. “We played higher with our defense and watched our turnovers.” Young can even be supporting the Red Panthers against the Gators. “I’ll be here with the remainder of the Red Panther nation, cheering our guys on,” she said.
Rucker led Coahoma County with 10 points to go along with 2 rebounds and a pair of assists within the win against Newton; Hearn scored 9 points and picked up 9 rebounds; Eagins and Washington contributed 8 points apiece; Cam’ron Bell had 4 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and three steals; Harlem Bell had 4 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal; Smith scored 2 points; and senior power forward Kesean Maddox collected 5 rebounds.
Photo Credit: Jaleesa Collins photo
(14) Caleb Hearn (12) Hershel Washington