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PURVIS – It has been 23 years since the Purvis girls made their only appearance at the Mississippi Coliseum for the MHSAA State Tournament.

There is still a lot of basketball left to play, but the Lady Tornadoes are putting together a season that might get them back to Jackson for the Class 4A Final Four.

Purvis put together one of its best showings of the season in demolishing Lawrence County 51-26 in Region 7-4A play Friday night at the PHS gym. The Lady Tornadoes improved to 21-1 overall and 6-0 in the region. The Lady Cougars dropped to 10-9 and 3-2.

“I thought this was one of our best games of the season,” said Purvis coach Michael Thornton. “We brought a lot of intensity, and I thought the girls were ready to play tonight.”

Thornton says this will be his last season after 35 years as a head coach, including a long, successful stint at Forrest County AHS. If he follows through on that decision, he has a senior-laden squad that could carry him out on a high note.

“I turn 60 next month, and I thought this would be a good senior group to go out with,” said Thornton, who is now in his seventh season at Purvis.

That senior group is 84-26 over the past three years, after reaching the 4A Elite Eight in 2020. One of those seniors is 5-foot-10 forward Andee Robertson, whose mother Lindsey was a starter on that 1999 team that made it to Jackson.

“It is a motivator for me,” said Robertson. “My sophomore season when we got to the Elite Eight, that was a dream come true, and we want to get further than that this year. I’m trying to follow in her footsteps. She’s always pushed me to be the best that I can be.”

But the glue for Purvis was unquestionably senior guard Elise Jackson, who entered the game averaging more than 20 points per game. She surpassed that against Lawrence County, scoring 23 points, along with five steals and five rebounds.

Jackson picked up two fouls midway through the first quarter after leading Purvis to a 10-2 start, and the Lady Tornadoes foundered with their star on the bench, missing their last 10 shots from the field and committing six turnovers.

“It helped me be a little more careful with my defense and mindful not to foul,” said Jackson, who signed a softball scholarship with Jones College earlier Friday. “It got me calmed down a little bit.”

Purvis was a different team when she came back out for the start of the second quarter. The Lady Tornadoes only committed eight turnovers the rest of the game and converted 15 of 25 shots from the field in the middle two periods.

Most of those were fast-break layups in transition, then Robertson swished a pair of 3-point shots near the end of the period to cap an 11-2 run that effectively sealed the win.

“As a team, we’re real good in the open floor,” said Jackson. “We’re real quick, so we can get steals and easy baskets when we get out and run.”

The Lady Tornadoes fueled their offense with an aggressive zone defense that made life miserable for Lawrence County. The Lady Cougars were just 8 of 51 from the field for the game, including 4 of 26 from 3-point range.

“I thought we were amazing on defense tonight,” said 6-foot-1 senior Halle Glover. “We could have done better in the low post, and we need to work on moving our feet better, but other than that I thought we did a good job.

“We usually play a box-and-one, but because they had some good post players, we played a 2-1-2 to keep them from scoring inside.” 

Purvis was especially dominant on the boards, as Robertson and Glover each finished with 10 rebounds, most of them on the defensive end.

“Elise is a very dangerous player in the open court, and I thought Andee hit some big shots,” said Thornton. “Elise is a special athlete. She’s a tremendous softball player, and a tremendous basketball player. She has scored now, close to 1,600 points in her career. 

“She started as a freshman, Andee started as a freshman, and Lillie Hale played a lot (as a freshman). Those three bring a lot of senior leadership, and our program has gotten used to winning. And the mental aspect when you get used to winning makes a big difference.”

The second half was more of the same, as Robertson hit two more treys, finishing with 12 points for the game, Glover came alive on the offensive end, with eight of her 12 points coming in the second half, and Jackson had 10 points in the second half, all on high-percentage shots.

“I’ve never really been a 3-point shooter,” said Robertson. “In middle school, I was always a post and stayed down low. My freshman year Coach moved me to the perimeter, because he thought I could shoot.

“That’s a big part of our offense. I feel like whenever I’m on, it gives the other girls some confidence, because I’m doing my part. That’s a big part of my game, being able to rebound and shoot 3s.”

There is still plenty of work to do before Purvis hosts the Region 7-4A Tournament, beginning February 8. But Thornton likes the direction his team is heading.

“We need to keep working hard,” said Thornton. “It’s going to be tough, We don’t have a lot of depth, but we play with a lot of intensity. 

“My late father always used to talk about my teams at Forrest County, and we’ve been able to do that here at Purvis, is they play so hard. I thought we played with more intensity than Lawrence County tonight.”

Sophomores Kapresha Courtney and Jamiya Atterberry each had nine points to lead Lawrence County.

In the boys game, Lawrence County opened up a big first-half lead and held off a furious second-half comeback to defeat the Tornadoes 58-43.

The Cougars remained unbeaten in region play at 6-0 (14-7 overall) with their 11th consecutive victory; Purvis dropped to 8-13 and 0-6.

Lawrence County used a big second quarter to build a 29-9 halftime advantage, but Purvis came alive in the third quarter, led by sophomore Bredren Elenus, who scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the period.

The Tornadoes outscored the Cougars 21-16 in the third quarter and closed the margin to 10 points on two occasions in the fourth quarter but could never get closer.

Junior Trey Jones led Lawrence County with 18 points and senior Jaheim Ball added 11 points.