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Basketball: Denmark boys drop Ridgeland late for first-ever state playoff win
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Denmark's Ze'Vian Capers throws down a dunk during the Danes' state playoff game against Ridgeland on Feb. 16, 2019 at Denmark High School. - photo by Ben Hendren

The students streamed onto the court as the clock hit zero, but there was no buzzer-beating shot, or region title, or any kind of upset. The Denmark boys basketball team beat Ridgeland 70-46 on Friday, in a game that in the end was as distant as would be expected from a matchup between a region champion and a 4-22 team. 

But this was a playoff game, part of the first round of the Class 7-4A bracket, something completely new for almost everyone involved in Denmark's program. The win was expected, but was also yet another impressive accomplishment for a program that has soared in its first year. 

"The culture here is awesome," Danes sophomore point guard Sutton Smith said. "The students are all bought in."

This particular game wasn't always comfortable, though. For most of the night, Ridgeland did not play poorly, even having entered the tournament as one of the weaker No. 4 seeds, with a 4-22 record. The Panthers settled into a defensive style that countered Denmark's tendencies, with their 2-3 zone playing upon the Danes' reluctance to shoot from long range and using massive Ridgeland forward Fred Norman Jr. as a physical barrier in the post. 

That resulted in a methodical game all around in the first half, with the Danes staying in the lead thanks to their efficiency on the fast break and the Panthers' own shooting struggles. But in the third quarter, as Denmark was having a particularly rough stretch from the field and Ridgeland was hitting, the Panthers made it 34-34 with 2:42 to go in the interval.

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Denmark's Adonnis Easton-Tolbert takes a jumper during the Danes' state playoff game against Ridgeland on Feb. 16, 2019 at Denmark High School. - photo by Ben Hendren
The score would never shift into Ridgeland's favor, and the Danes hit back quickly with a transition layup and free throw from Karson Kinnevy. But after Denmark got the ball back from a turnover forced by Adrian Gutierrez, Danes head coach Tyler Whitlock made sure his team realized the urgency of the situation, with his voice reaching a yell in the huddle. 

"The one time I did get on them, I felt like we were just being lackadaisical," Whitlock said. "Like we just felt like, 'Oh, we'll be okay,' and that's why I felt like I needed to have a little fire in the huddle that time."

Denmark responded forcefully. The Danes went on a 12-1 run and led 46-35 at the end of the third quarter, with Adonnis Easton-Tolbert hitting a shot just before the buzzer. It took less than five minutes of game time for Denmark's lead to reach 20 in the fourth, and the Danes could soon bring on the rest of their bench. The biggest cheer of the night came when George Turnipseed hit a corner three with 13 seconds left. 

As the crowd was dispersing, Whitlock expressed awe at the level of support that the program had received not just during its inaugural season, but also during a long weekend for the schools.

"I could not be more grateful for the support of this community and what they're doing for us," Whitlock said.

And he was just fine with the students taking to the court. It's not like they'd been there before.

Smith led the Danes with 24 points, Tolbert had 19, and Ze'Vian Capers had 12. Denmark is set to host No. 2 seeded Stephens County on Thursday.