No. 9 Meridian clinches Region 5 crown with 59-53 win at Brandon
BRANDON — Meridian needed a road win over Brandon on Friday night to capture the Region 5 crown and earn the top seed in the district tournament.
After a defensive surge in the second half and an offensive breakout in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats got exactly what they were looking for, rallying past rival Brandon 59-53.
The win gave the Wildcats (19-4, 6-0 Region 5-6) the No. 1 spot in the district tournament, which will be held in Brandon on Monday, February 5th.
“They did a great job changing the defense against us and I was really proud of the reaction from our kids,” said Meridian coach Ron Norman. The boys showed resilience and a lot of character. We played some tough games along I-20 and on the road and that prepared us for an environment like this.”
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Friday night’s game was tight from the start as the two teams drew 10-10 in the first quarter.
Brandon started the second quarter on an 11-3 run to take a 21-13 lead and sustained from there as the Bulldogs went 28-21 at halftime.
The Bulldogs extended their lead to 32-23 in the third quarter, but Meridian hit a 7-0 run within three minutes to cut the lead to 32-30. The Wildcats took their first lead of the game on a middle-distance jumper from Javion Yarbrough at 35-34 and 1:16 to go. A Marcel Bridges lay-up gave Brandon the 36-35 lead in the fourth, but the Wildcats had fought their way back into the game.
There were five lead changes in the fourth quarter. Meridian’s Dantwaine Johnson hit two free throws with 2:17 left to give the Wildcats a 50-48 lead.
After Brandon leveled the game, Johnson drove to the basket for a layup to give the Wildcats a 52-50 advantage.
Meridian sealed the game with a 6-1 run in the final minutes. Tamarion Jones hit two free throws with 25 seconds left to give the Cats a 58-51 lead.
“Dantwaine was part-time starter and part-time reserve and scored some big points for us in the second half,” Norman said. “We played good defence, it was hard to keep them off the boards and I expect we’ll see each other again in two weeks. We have first place but we still have to play and it’s been a long time since we won here because it’s a really difficult place to play.”
Johnson had 15 points, all in the second half to lead Meridian while Jordan Jones added 13 points and Yarbrough had 12 points for the Wildcats.
“When the coach came out in the second half he told us we had to play hard,” Yarbrough said. “Brandon are a really good team and we had to score. When DJ started, that opened up for me and we started recording. Defense is what we do. We get stops and that’s something we have to execute and that’s where it all starts. We’ll be ready for the district tournament, it’s going to be tough.”
Bridges had a game-high 24 points to lead Brandon while Isaiah Davis added nine points for the Bulldogs (18-7).
“We’re looking pretty good in the first half and we had the lead,” said Brandon coach Fred Barnes. “They came out in a 2-2-1 defense and we looked really confused even though we’ve seen that before. Our boys just panicked. Throughout the game they made their free throws and we missed ours and you can’t do that. They made consecutive baskets and we couldn’t get any stops.”