By Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith
FLOWOOD – No one would be surprised if Michael McAnally, last year’s PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Girls Basketball Coach of the Year, has nightmares Tuesday night about twin towers.
His defending MAIS Overall champion Jackson Prep team was outscored by Brookhaven Academy’s twin towers – 6-foot senior twins and Mississippi College signees Lillie and Emma Gates – who combined for 34 points in Brookhaven Academy’s 48-23 victory at Prep.
Lillie had 20 points, 19 rebounds and 7 blocked shots and Emma had 14 points, all in the second half, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots before the talented twosome left the game with 1 minute, 18 seconds to play to a round of applause from the fans in the visitor’s bleachers.
Brookhaven Academy, a contender for the MAIS Class 5A state championship, improved to 21-2 and won its 20th consecutive game. The Lady Cougars haven’t lost since a 39-33 loss to MAIS Class 6A Madison-Ridgeland Academy Nov. 3 at Brookhaven. Brookhaven Academy’s other loss was a 57-52 decision to 5A Simpson Academy Oct. 26 at Brookhaven.
Prep, which lost all five starters from last year’s 37-2 Overall championship team, dropped to 8-14.
Prep played Brookhaven Academy well in the first half, leading 6-4 after one quarter and trailing only 16-15 at halftime. But the Gates twins took over in the third quarter, scoring all 15 of Brookhaven Academy’s points and giving the Lady Cougars a 31-20 lead after three quarters. Brookhaven Academy continued to dominate in the fourth quarter and didn’t allow a Prep field goal until the final seconds.
“Our game plan going in was to establish our inside post play,” said Brookhaven Academy coach Ron Kessler, who has 324 wins in 16 seasons, one coaching girls at Jefferson Forest High in Virginia, seven coaching boys at Wesson High, four years coaching girls at Life Center Academy in New Jersey and the last five coaching girls at Brookhaven Academy. “Prep disrupted that plan with great perimeter, ball pressure on our guards. Neither team could really get going offensively in the first half as both teams put forth excellent half-court, defensive efforts. At halftime, we reminded our players that our game plan had not changed, and that we needed to be more patient and deliberate with getting the ball into the post. The second half was much different than the first as our guards were much more patient and found Lillie and Emma in the post for high percentage shot attempts and they both delivered. Junior Mallory Martin and sophomores Ainsley Orr and Ava Calcote came off the bench and gave our team a much-needed lift on both ends of the floor.”
Kessler, who is assisted by longtime head coach Hugh Webb (more than 30 years as a head coach at Crystal Springs High and Central Private, La.), knew McAnally’s team would play them tough.
“Prep played hard and punched us in the mouth in the first half with great defense,” Kessler said. “I was extremely proud of our team’s adjustments in the second half and the fight to finish four quarters of basketball. This is just the type of game we needed before entering our district opener Friday night against Oak Forest at home.”
Taylor Caton, a 5-10 sophomore forward and daughter of Prep softball coach Cory Caton, led Prep with nine points.
“I thought our energy was really good in the first half,” McAnally said. “We were having a hard time finishing at the basket, but I thought we were really competing, especially on the defensive end. I thought Brookhaven really flexed their muscle in the second half. Their halfcourt execution was really crisp and they created a lot of good looks for the Gates twins. I thought if we could have made a few shots that would have helped us stay in the game, but we really had a hard time scoring the ball. I thought their defensive pressure in the second half was really good.”
McAnally has won 611 games – 398 girls and 213 boys – and four state titles, two Overall titles and two Overall runner-up finishes. He has won 181 girls games in nine seasons at Prep. He has coached at Huntington, La. (2001-2003), Copiah Academy (2003-2006), East Rankin (2006-2014) and Prep. McAnally has had only six losing seasons (four boys and two girls) in a combined 30 seasons (17 girls and 13 boys).
This season has been a difficult one, but McAnally is seeing improvement as the season goes along. He started two seniors, who are first-year starters, and three sophomores Tuesday.
“Our team has shown much improvement throughout the year,” McAnally said. “That improvement is not reflected in our record, but we have made strides since the start of the season. Our attention to detail with scouts has been very good. We just have an inexperienced team who is having to navigate a schedule with the likes of Leake, Pillow, Choctaw Central, Simpson (twice) and Brookhaven just to name a few. Those teams probably have a combined 12-15 losses. And that’s before we even get into conference play. But things are starting to click for this team, and we hope it will pay off as we begin conference play this week.”