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Lions send W. Lincoln home

JACKSON – Junior guard Daniel Simmons shyly smiled and shrugged off his shooting skills but the Biggersville standout made a major contribution Friday in the Mississippi Coliseum. Simmons poured in a game-high 27 points and the Lions eliminated the favored West Lincoln Bears 61-55 in the semifinals of the MHSAA Class 1A State Basketball Tournament.

Biggersville (27-7) advances to Thursday’s championship game against defending state champion Coldwater (28-3). Coldwater eliminated South State Tournament runner-up Hinds AHS 63-50 Friday.

West Lincoln (31-4) , making a second straight state tournament appearance, struggled through a slow start and never recovered. The Bears fell behind 22-11 at the end of the first quarter as the Lions applied a sticky man-to-man defense and derailed WL’s title quest.

“I’m super-duper proud of my guys,” said second-year Biggersville coach Cliff Little. “We told them if we won the rebound game, we could win the game.”

The Bears managed to outrebound the Lions 42-40 for the game but they shot a cold 31 percent from the field, compared to the Lions’ 51 percent. Senior guard Jared Case often drew double coverage and was held to 1 first-half point as the Lions forged a 37-26 lead, making 53 percent of their shots. Case finished with 11 points.

Sophomore guard Duane Marshall kept the Bears in contention with a team-high 21 points. He scored 13 the first half.

West Lincoln made a run at the Lions in the second half. The Bears reduced Biggersville’s lead to 6 points on 3 occasions and pulled within 4 points, 59-55, when Case drained a trey from NBA range with 43 seconds left to play.

The Lions, struggling at the free throw line, managed to make 2 of 8 free throws in the closing seconds while West Lincoln missed and missed again.

“Biggersville played really well the first half,” said West Lincoln coach Lane Young. “They made some tough shots from the lane.”

Young said the shooting skills displayed by Simmons didn’t surprise him. “I knew No. 23 would take about 50 percent of their shots. He made some tough shots today.”

Simmons, a 6-foot-1 junior, had 17 points at halftime. He sacked 3 treys in the first half. He also grabbed 10 rebounds for the game.

Teammate Jaylon Gaines, a 5-10 junior, followed Simmons with 19 points and 4 rebounds. Several of his shots were acrobatic, 1-handed putbacks from the lane.

“Coach told me I had to go to the boards hard,” said the soft-spoken Gaines.

Simmons and Gaines were two veterans returning from last year’s state finalist team that lost to Coldwater. Little said, “We rely on both those guys to do a lot. On any given night, they can fill it up. I tell people we have a lot of guys who can play.”

Little praised his team’s work on defense. “We took four charges the second half and that was big.”

On the backboards, 6-1 junior Darian Barnett grabbed 10 rebounds for the Lions. The Bears got 16 rebound from senior forward Lucas Burris and 6 from Marshall.

The Lions went ahead by 8 points, 52-44, with 6:12 left in the game on a short jumper by Simmons from the lane. Little ordered his team to slow the pace of the game. Their inability to make free throws kept the game close.