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Lady Panthers stay perfect in region play with blowout of South Jones

The long-delayed return to Sinclair Gymnasium was a sweet one for the fans of the Brookhaven High girls’ basketball team as Friday night the Lady Panthers played on their home court for the first time in nearly a year.

There were some nerves early on, but once coach Preston Wilson’s team settled into a groove, they rolled over the visitors from South Jones by a 66-34 final to move to 2-0 in division play.

In the boys’ game, South Jones took the Region 5-5A matchup with Ole Brook by a 57-41 score.

BHS basketball had played two games to open the season back in November but had a COVID-19 outbreak within the program that forced the cancelation of all-non division games that were scheduled before the start of region play.

That meant there were 323 days between home games for the Panthers as their last time on their home court was a pair of playoff games against Natchez in February 2020.

The Lady Panthers are coming off a season in which they finished as 5A state runners-up, but only have one returning started in senior point guard Ashanti Louis.

One of the most enjoyable things about watching Wilson lead his team is the way he rotates through the subs on his bench.

Maximum effort is the goal as the Lady Panthers press in the full court and Wilson is always moving players on and off the court to keep them fresh.

Two of the most dangerous pieces in that press are the duo of junior forward Kyja Willis and sophomore guard Angel “Cookie” Wilkinson.

Wilson and his staff have had their players putting up lots of shots during the period where they’ve practiced but not played games since early November.

Friday, it was Willis and Wilkinson who had the touch from deep as they both hit two 3-pointers apiece in the win.

As a team, BHS went 6-of-19 from the 3-point line and 8-of-20 from the free throw line.

“We’ve worked on shooting free throws quite a lot, but you wouldn’t know it from how we did tonight,” said Wilson.

BHS only led 13-9 after the opening quarter but 3-pointers by both Willis and Wilkinson in the second quarter were part of a surge that put the Lady Panthers up 30-15 at the break.

Wilkinson led all scorers with 18 points and Wilkinson chipped in 17 points.

The Lady Panthers are also a little deeper in the post this season as 5-foot-11 forward Denaejah Williams was joined in the paint at times by 6-foot-2 sophomore Leah Wilcher.

Also returning as experienced pieces in the backcourt are sophomore guard Alexis Kelly and junior guard Aniyah Cook. Sophomores Raven Smith and Makyia Stallings are two more players that will have increased rolls in 2021 for BHS.

Louis finished with eight points while Williams chipped in six. Smith scored four as did Kelly. Cook scored three while Stallings, freshman Aliyah Watkins and junior Lillian Denney added two points each.

Louis, Williams, Wilkinson and Willis make up the starting lineup alongside senior Timyia Cooper.

“We’re going to be a little more balanced this year scoring across the board,” said Wilson. “Our depth this year is something that can really be an asset going forward.”

Saturday BHS went to Provine and played a pair of games against Forest Hill.

The Lady Panthers (4-1) won 52-40 over Forest Hill while the boys’ team lost 85-40 to the Patriots.

In the boys’ game matchup with South Jones the Panthers (1-4) went up 4-0 before seeing the visiting Braves went on a 14-0 run to take control of the game.

South Jones led 34-16 at halftime.

Cedarius Brothern led the Panthers in scoring with eight points. Ja’Carrio Jones and LaDarius Thrasher scored seven points each while Elijah Kennedy added six points for coach Marcus Flippin.

Jacobieus Perkins scored five points while Amari Smith added four points. Anthony Sanders and Elijah Wilcher rounded out the BHS scoring with two points each.

Brothern, Jones and Thrasher are the only seniors on the team for BHS.

Thrasher was given a ball to commemorate his 1,000th career point during the game and was also named to the roster of the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star game earlier in the week. That game will be played on March 12 in Montgomery, Alabama, and Flippin will be head coach for the team from Mississippi.

The Panthers are back in Sinclair Gymnasium Friday as they host West Jones in another pair of region games.