The rivalry between the East Mustangs and the Whitehaven Tigers added another chapter in the Region 8 Finals at Collierville High School. In the District Championship, the Tigers broke their 10-game losing streak to the Mustangs and were looking to start a streak of their own.
The Mustangs entered the game two starters short. Malcolm Dandridge, who has committed to the Memphis Tigers for next season, was sidelined along with starting guard Dee Merriweather. However, the Mustangs still have the No. 1 rated player in the country in James Wiseman and were able to control the game and take the AAA West Regional Championship with a 55-42 win.
“It is a different dynamic,” said East Head Coach Jevonte Holmes. “Missing Malcolm, the other guys stepped up. Tadarius is back in the fold. We are a different team, I just love the effort.”
Speaking of effort, Wiseman controlled the game from the jump. Wiseman had 27 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. Wiseman was critical in the transition game in running the floor to get breakaway dunks.
The game attracted a very large crowd to the new arena in Collierville, including most of the coaching staff at the University of Memphis spearheaded by Penny Hardaway. Ole Miss Head Coach Kermit Davis getting an up close look at Whitehaven’s Matthew Murrell, a top prospect in the class of 2020.
The Mustangs welcomed Tadarius Jacobs back to the lineup. Jacobs returned from injury this week, scoring 15 points and helped the offense flow. But Murrell was held to just six points.
Holmes said he made it a point to deny Murrell the basketball and forced his teammates to make plays. “The only way were are going to get back to the state is going to be defense.”
Whitehaven’s Jesse Payne scored 14 points with nine of those coming in the fourth period. That is when the Tigers tried to make a final run at the Mustangs after being down by as many at 17 points in the game. Whitehaven never got closer than seven points (49-42) with 2:31 left in the game.
On the battle with fellow seven footer Jordan Wilmore, Wiseman said, “He is going to be a good player in the future, but I tried to do all I could to help my team win. I am glad to get the victory.”
Dandridge will sit the remainder of the season. He had a knee injury and is awaiting the results of an MRI taken earlier this week. Dandridge last played in the loss to the Tigers in the District Championship at Central. Dandridge has accepted the fact that he may have played his last game at East.
East will host Bolton tonight (Mon. March 4) at 7 p.m. Meanwhile, Whitehaven will face the Bartlett Panthers also at 7 p.m. tonight (Mar. 4). The winners from each game will advance to the state tournament starting next week at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.