WEST POINT, Miss., - Not many people gave the defending 4A state champion New Hope Trojans a prayer after losing their top eight players including highly touted recruits Rashanti Harris and Dale Hughes last season.
But the Trojans showed they are not ready to relinquish their throne without a fight taking it to district foe West Point 70-56 on Friday night.
"Yeah, we lost our top eight but our guys play so hard," said New Hope head coach Robert Byrd. "Everybody thinks they are going to be down but they're not. They play too hard to be down."
New Hope shot the ball exceptionally well from the perimeter against the Green Wave. The Trojans drained seven 3-pointers including four in the first half to take a 32-24 lead by halftime.
"We've got a lot of shooters," Byrd said. "If they get it going early then we've got a good chance. We've had a shooting funk the last 3-4 games and have been dying by the three. Tonight we lived by it and lived for another day."
Jonathan Branden led New Hope with 26 points including three treys on the night.
"Branden can play," Byrd said. "He has only played one semester of basketball his whole high school career but he can play."
Quinton Shirley added 16 points and knocked down four shots from the outside.
"Shirley we always put on their best offensive player," Byrd said. "We ask a lot out of him. He is a senior who plays hard and I am proud of him."
Victor Payne also scored 14 points in the win for the Trojans.
New Hope improved to 8-3 on the season and evened its district record to 1-1 after dropping a decision to Noxubee County by three points. Byrd believes his team is very much in contention to be one of the top teams in Region 4.
"Noxubee is tough but we are right there in the mix," Byrd said. "We just have to keep playing better. But as long as we get in that top three before the division tournament I like our chances especially with the tournament being at New Hope."
West Point is also considered to be a contender for the district crown fell to 9-5 with the loss and is now 0-1 in district play under new head coach Winston Varnado, father for Mississippi State standout Jarvis Varnado.
"The bottom line was they wanted it more than us," Varnado said. "The out-hustled us in every phase of the game. They just wanted it more than us. When you want something more, you normally get it."
The Green Wave kept pace with New Hope early on but a switch from man-to-man defense to a zone early on in the first half allowed the Trojans to capitalize from the outside.
West Point attempted to counter from the behind the arc but were only able to convert four of those attempts.
"We just didn't do it tonight," Varnado said. "Some nights we come out here and look like the best team in the state and tonight we came out here and looked terrible."
Curtis Hall led the Green Wave with 21 points and tried to will West Point back with 17 points in the second half.
"Curtis has been my consistent player at least for the last four games," Varnado said. "He's been the one that has come out there and given it all he's got."
Junior sensation Michael Carr scored 14 points for West Point while Laquintis Roberstson chipped in seven.