South Side 9 12 20 26 -- 67
Howard 9 15 14 15 -- 53
South Side (67) -- Jaylen Barford 18, McNeal 8, Fuller 5, A.J. Merriweather 17, Malike Hicks 12, Murphy, White 3, Terra. Smith, Terri. Smith, Vinson, Jones, Beard 4, Heavner, Martin, Johnson.
Howard (53) -- Smith 2, Cameron 1, Chris Walton 10, Xavier Harris 18, Brandon Walters 11, McCauley 2, Brown, Norwood, Brummitt 3, Young 4, Strickland 2.
3-point goals: South Side 2 (Fuller, White); Howard 3 (Walton 2, Brummitt). Other highlights: Merriweather 10 r; Chris McNeal 3 s (SS); Harris 10 r; Walters 8 r, 7 b; Walton 7 r; Cudjoe Young 5 a (H). Records: South Side 28-3; Howard 28-6.
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - As he walked off the floor Friday evening, Howard junior Chris Walton stared at the scoreboard facing him.
The words and numbers looking right back at him weren't to his liking.
They read "South Side 67, Howard 53."
The Hustlin' Tigers fell prey to a 15-2 South Side run in the fourth quarter, and the Jackson school advanced to the Class AA state-title game.
"I didn't want the game to end," Walton said. "I wasn't ready to lose -- we weren't ready to lose. It's really hard knowing how close we were tonight. We're a family and we really wanted it."
The Hawks (28-3) will face Christ Presbyterian Academy, which defeated Livingston Academy in the other semifinal, in today's championship game at the Murphy Center in Murfreesboro.
Howard's inside duo of Brandon Walters and Xavier Harris combined for 29 points and 18 rebounds, with the 6-foot-9 Walters adding seven blocks to his 11 points and eight rebounds. But the smaller Hawks were able to exploit him defensively late in the game by making him guard players out on the perimeter, and he picked up his third and fourth fouls 23 seconds part with South Side leading 45-42.'
That led Howard coach Walter McGary to take the big man out.
The teams traded layups immediately after, but without Walters in the game, the Hawks scored the next 13 points. During the run, South Side had a five-point possession after Antonio Smith was whistled for both a personal foul and a technical. The Hawks hit three free throws, and then Mr. Basketball finalist A.J. Merriweather scored on a backdoor cut to stretch a five-point lead to 10 points.
"The pressure they exerted was kind of intense," McGary said. "If we could have sustained the same energy as we had in the first half, we would have been fine, but we missed shots, lost our composure and they had a six-point play that broke our backs."
The Hustlin' Tigers (28-6) took a 24-21 lead into the locker room on the strength of their defensive play. South Side shot 36.4 percent in the first half. Although Howard wasn't much better (40 percent), it held a six-rebound advantage and Walters had four blocks, sealing the inside.
In the second half, the Hawks were 18-for-28 (64 percent).
"We haven't played anybody as big as he is," South Side coach DaMonn Fuller said. "We've played some as tall as him, but he's a big man -- a one-man wrecking crew. He stopped a lot of our penetration, but once we pulled him away from the goal, we started scoring."
Junior Jaylen Barford finished with 18 points for the Hawks, while Merriweather had 17 and Malik Hicks added 12.
"South Side didn't do anything we didn't expect. Our lack of execution got us," McGary said. "We picked the worst night of the year to have the worst game overall. We have to be better at understanding the nuances of playing big-time basketball."
Harris finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for Howard, while Walton added 10 points and seven rebounds.
"They got a lot of points out of transition, and they won from our mistakes," Harris said. "We played to win, but we didn't accomplish the mission we were trying to accomplish."