By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – Jazmine Spears saved her best for last Friday night.
New Albany’s 5-foot-10 sophomore forward went 1-on-1 against Myrtle’s 6-foot Aspriona Gilbert and scored on a running 8-foot shot with 5.5 seconds remaining to give the state’s top-ranked Lady Bulldogs a pulse-pounding 49-48 victory on their Union County rival at Memorial Gym.
“I knew I could take (Gilbert) 1-on-1,” Spears said outside a relieved New Albany dressing room. “She was backing up and I just shot it.”
New Albany (14-2) trailed by as many as 10 points in the second half and was down 42-34 with 5 minutes, 30 seconds left following a Gilbert layup.
Spears fueled the Lady Bulldogs’ rally, scoring 14 of her team-high 16 points in the second half. She scored 10 in the fourth quarter.
“She started playing like she’s capable of playing in the fourth quarter,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “She was the difference in the game.”
Senior guard Kebrina Lucas scored nine of her 15 points for New Albany in the team’s second-half surge.
Myrtle (16-4) had an opportunity to tie or win the game in the final seconds, but Halle Knowles missed a free throw and Gilbert couldn’t get a shot off on an inbounds pass with 0.9 seconds left.
“Myrtle’s a really good team,” Stroud said. “That was good old-fashioned Union County basketball tonight.”
Lady Hawks coach Chris Greer knew Spears would be taking the final shot. He liked his team’s chances with Gilbert, who scored 19 points, in the middle.
“Aspriona stayed in front of her and we tried to help,” he said. “Spears made an 8-foot shot with a hand in her face.
“It was a boxing match, with a lot of counter punches. They had a little more at the end.”
New Albany jumped out to an 11-2 lead before Myrtle, behind Gilbert, rallied to cut the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to 11-9.
Kiana Judon came of the bench to give Myrtle a lift – and the lead – in the second quarter. She scored seven of her 11 points in the period to help the Hawks outscore the Bulldogs 19-10 and take a 28-21 halftime lead.
“I think the key to the game was that we didn’t handle their pressure,” Greer said. “Next time we’ll be prepared.”
“Next time” could come Saturday, Jan. 15, in the finals of the Union County Tournament in Myrtle. Both teams will be heavily favored to reach the title contest.
New Albany has won five straight in the series, including a 62-51 decision earlier this season at Myrtle.
– (B) New Albany 76, Myrtle 69: Tadarious Coburn scored 13 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Bulldogs.
New Albany (15-2) also got 18 each from Kareem Brown and Malcolm Spears.
Robert Montgomery scored 20 to lead Myrtle (11-9). His 3-pointer with 19 seconds left cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 72-69.