By Robert Wilson
The multiple storylines for the Brandon-Pearl girls basketball game Monday night set the stage for an intense battle:
Emotions run high when the two MHSAA Class 6A rivals from Rankin County play in any sport.
Talented junior guard Kynnedi Davis – one of the best players in Mississippi who scored a career-high 44 points in a game this season – transferred to Brandon from Pearl this school year.
This was a go-home game, the first round of the 6A state playoffs. The loser’s season is over.
The result was all that, and more, as Pearl escaped with a 57-54 upset in a game, which featured about as many floor burns as shots made, in a loud Pearl gym.
The final few minutes was really crazy, as Brandon made a frantic comeback from as many as 14 points down to close within 2, then Davis missed a potential tying 3-pointer from about 24 feet in front of the Brandon bench with 2 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.
Pearl improved to 20-7 and defeated Brandon for the first time since the 2020 season. Pearl visits Harrison Central, 26-2, Friday night in Gulfport. Harrison Central is considered by many as the favorite to win the 6A state title.
Brandon finished 17-10. Brandon played without senior guard Marley Freeman – a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – who did not play for disciplinary reasons, Brandon coach Candace Foster said. Freeman averaged 12.4 points, second on the team behind Davis.
Pearl came out determined and focused, jumping out to a quick lead, primarily behind senior guard Marissa Washington, who scored seven of her game-high 19 points in the first quarter.
“I didn’t want my senior season to come to an end to Brandon,” Washington said. “I knew if we were going to have a good chance to win, we were going to have to come out strong and fast in the first half and finish the same way. I had to step up and be a leader during the game. I knew it was a big stage and a big moment not only for me, but for my teammates.”
“Marissa was on fire,” Pearl coach Lacey Kennedy said. “She was focused. We played some ferocious defense for the first quarter and half. The girls were aggressive. They did the defensive game plan to perfection. We blocked a lot of shots, at least eight. And (sophomore guard) Abrianna (Lonie) is my lockdown defender and guarded Kynnedi and didn’t allow her to score a single point in the first half.
“The last two minutes was the Brandon-Pearl game that everybody came out here to see. I’m glad that it was exciting and I’m even more glad it turned out the way it did. I think our kids deserve it. They come to work every day. They put those nose down and work hard. They take care of business out there. We’ve come a long way from this summer.”
Pearl led 11-7 after one quarter, 34-20 at halftime and 44-37 after three quarters. Davis, who finished with 15 points (all in the second half), led the Brandon rally. She scored five points in a furious 30-second span to cut the Pearl lead to 52-50 with 1:09 to play. Lonie made two free throws – she was 6 for 6 in the fourth quarter – for a 54-50 lead, but Brandon’s Katelyn Sanders made a steal and layup to cut it 54-52. Pearl’s Alexandria Villanueva made a layup for a 56-52 lead, then Davis made two free throws – with the Pearl student section chatting “overrated” – to cut it to 56-54 with 11.9 seconds to play. Washington made one free throw with 8 seconds to play for a 57-54 lead. Brandon called timeout with 5.2 seconds, then Davis missed her potential game-tying 3-pointer attempt.
Pearl senior forward Jacia Hayes – another member of the Preseason Elite 11 Team – had 13 points.
“We fought. We got down by as much as maybe 14 points at one point,” Brandon coach Candace Foster said. “I’m just so proud of how they rallied around one another and fought back and encouraged one another to make the necessary corrections. Season-ending losses are always tough, especially to your crosstown rival, but I’m proud of the fight our girls exhibited and I’m more excited about our future. There was a large portion of our season that we started two freshman, two juniors and one senior. We’ll have a really good senior class next year and couple that with the underclassmen that started and played significant minutes, I know we will be back and made a deep run at it.”
Three juniors – Ameriah Fleming, Kathelyn Sanders and Hillary Howard – had 11 points, 10 points and 10 points respectively for Brandon.