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Smith shines on Senior Night, as Tupelo tops Starkville

Feb. 2—TUPELO — With the top seed in Region 2-7A on the line in an area rivalry, it became about who could make the big plays late in the game.

On Friday night, that team was Tupelo. The player was Sanyla Smith.

Smith's 17 points, coupled with the team's 21-point third quarter, led the No. 7 Golden Wave over the No. 3 Starkville Yellow Jackets, 53-36.

"It was a total group effort," Golden Wave coach Matt Justice said. "They just never changed in the game. They kept sticking to the game plan."

Starkville (22-4, 8-2) held a two-point lead heading into the third quarter, but Tupelo (15-9, 8-2) opened it with a 15-0 run. Its defense didn't allow a point until there was 1:32 left in the period and the Wave leading 43-26.

"We just tried to keep them off the boards and make them take tough shots in the paint, and we were able to rebound and give them one-shot opportunities," Justice said of the team's second-half defense. "That was huge for us to be able to get those rebounds and get out and run in transition."

The Yellow Jackets went on a 6-0 run to start the fourth quarter, but Tupelo, taking its time on each offensive possession, was able to keep them at bay and seal the win.

"It means everything to us," Smith said of the win. "It gives us a better chance at winning a state championship, and we've got to keep going hard from here."

Starkville held leads after each of the first two quarters and had a consistent offense going, but coach Kristie Williams felt the Jackets shut down mentally in the second half.

"If you want to make a push to get ready for district play and then hopefully for the next round, you can't have mental breaks," she said. "I thought we did not do our very best, and it showed."

After some tiebreakers went its way, Tupelo will go into the region tournament as the No. 1 seed.

(B) Tupelo 61, Starkville 59: The Golden Wave knocked off the No. 6 Yellow Jackets in miraculous fashion to end the regular season.

With the game tied at 58 with 4.4 seconds left, David Washington drew a foul and made a free throw to put Starkville ahead by one. On the ensuing Tupelo possession, Tre Terrell hit a half-court buzzer-beater to end it.

Three-Pointers

Turning Point: Smith and Jade Rucker opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer apiece to get the Golden Wave going.

Point Maker: Smith's 17 points came shooting 5 for 11 from the field and 4 for 6 from the free throw line.

Talking Point: "She just stayed locked in the entire game. I think we all kind of fed off her energy." — Justice, on Smith

james.murphy@djournal.com