Neshoba Central's Chayton York (3) handles the ball against Provine's Anthony Johnson (2) on Friday, March 3, 2017, in the Class 5A quarterfinals of the MHSAA C Spire State Basketball Tournament at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.
Neshoba Central's Chayton York (3) handles the ball against Provine's Anthony Johnson (2) on Friday, March 3, 2017, in the Class 5A quarterfinals of the MHSAA C Spire State Basketball Tournament at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.
JACKSON – Maybe Coach Jerry Byrd hadn’t reached the end of the rainbow Friday afternoon as his Neshoba Central Rockets warmed up to play Provine in the third round of the Class 5A boys state tournament.

But it was a moment he and the Neshoba Central boys basketball program  have strived for in the past seven years.

They had arrived. All the hard work, the 5 a.m. practices, the tough schedule; it had finally paid off. The Rockets, the No. 1 ranked Class 5A team for the past two regular seasons, had finally made it to Jackson. And you’ll forgive Byrd as he enjoyed the moment.

“I just had to think back,” Byrd said. “From where we came from to where we are. To see the Rockets take the floor in Jackson made it all worthwhile.

“It has been a long time since Neshoba Central played in the state tournament in Jackson. It has done this ole coach’s heart a lot of good. I thought about the players who contributed to the program and were not here. They had a part in this, too. A lot of work has gone into this.”

And it won’t be the last time the Rockets play in Jackson this year. The Rockets defeated Provine 81-68 to advance to the semifinals of the state tournament.  They were to play Clarksdale Tuesday night. The winner of that game will play in the state championship game Friday night at 8 p.m. in the Mississippi Coliseum.

Bobby Anderson scored 33 points to lead the Rockets. T.J. Ben followed with 21 points while Justus Day added 18. Chayton York, who finished with six points, quarterbacked the team at point guard.

The first quarter was tight with the Rockets trailing 18-17 at the break. But the Rockets seemed to kick it into the next gear as they went up 35-23 with 2:35 left in the second quarter. York hit a field goal and added a free throw, and Ben followed up with a basket to give Neshoba Central a 40-25 lead with 35 seconds left in the half. The Rams sank a pair of free throws and then Anderson closed out with a basketball at the buzzer. The Rockets took 42-27 lead into the half.

The Rams were not going down without a fight and they made their run in the first 4 ½ minutes of the third quarter. Neshoba Central saw its lead fall to five points – 46-41 – with 3:15 left in the quarter. The Rockets pulled away again and went up 54-45 going into the fourth quarter.

The teams battled back and forth in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter. Then the Rockets expanded a 58-51 lead with 6:41 left. Justus Day sank a basket. Anderson scored once and then again, and then added two free throws that put Neshoba Central up 66-52 with less than four minutes to go. The Rockets kept the Rams at bay until it became evident time was running out on Provine.

Anderson was 14-of-15 from the free throw line, accounting for more than half of the Rockets’ 23 freebies. Anderson and Ben both accounted for seven rebounds.

“We have two more games left to play,” Anderson said. “We have to keep on competing and stay focused.”