The Central Private boys basketball team made history Saturday in a number of ways.
With their 74-67 comeback win against Jackson Prep in the Mississippi Association Independent Schools overall championship game, the Rebels not only became the first team in school history to lift the trophy, but the first team from Louisiana to capture the elusive Gold Ball.
Central Private coach Henry Gantz also became the youngest coach to win an overall championship at age 29 after his team battled from a 15-point second-half deficit to dethrone the defending champions.
“It’s definitely the most special moment of my career,” Gantz said. “I’ve always wanted to win it before I was 30, but I didn’t mean overall, I meant state championship. I’m not a low self-esteem guy, but to win something that’s so difficult, I never even dreamed I could win an overall championship. It still hasn’t hit me. Even after we won, we started getting all the facts in. It really was amazing.”
The win came just one week after Central Private lost its Class AA State Championship game to Marshall —– a defeat that stings on paper, but benefitted the Rebels in the long run. Gantz said his team used the state championship loss as a learning experience for the overall title, before facing a talented, deep and top-ranked Patriots squad that had suffered just one regular season loss all year — against Central Private.
“Basketball is a game of matchups, and we matched up better against Jackson Prep,” Gantz said. “Losing in the state championship really got us. We hadn’t played in one, I had never coached in one, the boys had never played in one, so I guess learning from how uptight we came out was the reason we were a lot more relaxed and ready for the moment. We weren’t as nervous the second time around.”
The Rebels trailed 35-26 at halftime, and Gantz, searching for an adjustment, decided not to throw together a game plan, but rather stick to his roots.
“I talked to my assistant, and we both agreed that in the second half we didn’t need too have a script,” Gantz said. “Jackson Prep is such a good school that if you’re setting up a defense, he’ll look at it, he’ll call a play and he’ll pick it apart. So, we basically just started playing our style of basketball.”
Whatever Gantz did worked, as the Rebels rallied from 15 down after hitting a 16-4 run to end the third quarter and eventually took their first lead of the half — one they wouldn’t relinquish.
Central Private senior guard Simpson Anderson scored a game-high 36 points — 20 of which came in the second half — to pace the Rebels, followed by Jaydyn Cohen with 12, Syrshawn Fitch with 11 and Liam Thomas with 10 points, eight rebounds and eight blocked shots.
“Everything fell into the right place,” Gantz said. “We played our best basketball the last week of the year; that’s what counts. It was the perfect storm. It was our game at our best, and that is the anti-them. It’s a blessing.”