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Raymond rides big second half past Pontotoc in MHSAA 4A Semifinal

Key Lewis and E.J. Paymon turned in big performances to push the Rangers past the Warriors

JACKSON — The Raymond Rangers are headed back to to the state championship for the seventh year in a row.

The Rangers (27-6) got big contributions from Keymarius Lewis and reigning Mr. Basketball E.J. Paymon en route to a 53-40 win over Pontotoc in a game that felt closer than the final score.

Raymond will face Yazoo City at 7 p.m. in Thursday’s 4A State Championship game, and there may not be enough room in the ‘Big House’ for the crowd.

“As a coach, you want to be in this game,” Rangers coach Tony Tadlock said. “As a basketball fan, you gotta love the matchup. I’ve known Carlyle a long time. He’s one of my best friends in coaching, and we’ve both got great teams, so it ought to be a good one.”

To repeat as champs, the Rangers will need to play like they did in the second half Monday rather than the first.

The two teams played to a 10-10 tie in the first quarter, but Pontotoc pulled ahead in the second. The Rangers couldn’t find any rhythm shooting the ball, and Adin Johnson hit a big three-pointer to give the Warriors a 25-21 lead going into the break.

“We were down four at the half,” Tadlock said. “And it’s like I told the guys, we could have been down 12 or 15 with how poorly we played. But we made some adjustments at halftime… and did a better job of taking advantage of some of those mismatches in size inside.”

Paymon got the party started with a bucket to open the second half, and Zhakeius Jackson hit a three-pointer to give Raymond the 26-25 lead just a minute into the second half.

Three possessions later, Lewis hit a three-pointer to spark a 15-4 run that put serious pressure on Pontotoc. By the time the clock tolled zero on the third quarter, Raymond had built a 45-33 lead.

The Warriors (30-3) scored five points on back-to-back buckets to start the fourth and cut the Raymond lead to seven, at 45-38, but Raymond scored the next eight points to put the game away.

Lewis led the Rangers with 23 points, hitting half of his 16 shot attempts, including five three-pointers.

“Coach told me I was one of the best shooters on the team and he needed me to step up,” Lewis said. “So that’s what I had to do to help my team get to the championship.”

Paymon finished with 16 points, eight blocks and seven rebounds.

Tyler Shephard had 20 points for Pontotoc. Johnson kicked in nine, all on three-pointers.

They made some good second half adjustments and our shots kept falling and ours didn’t,” Pontotoc coach Rolley Tipler said. “We had a good year and weren’t expected to be here. I’m proud of the guys for fighting and believing in each other.”