By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
ECRU – Call it the changing of the guard in Northeast Mississippi high school girls basketball.
New Albany senior all-state forward Jazmine Spears can hear the clock ticking on her illustrious prep career while Lafayette eight grade guard Shaniyah Buford, has just blasted off from the launching pad.
The quick, agile rookie scored 24 points Thursday to lead the Lady Commodores to a thrilling 61-60 win against Spears and the Lady Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Division 2-4A tournament at North Pontotoc.
“She’s a diamond in the rough,” Lafayette coach Amy Sutton said. “She made some novice mistakes, but what I admired most about her and my ninth grader, Shelbi Buford, was their intensity on the defensive end.”
Lafayette (12-10) will play North Pontotoc tonight in the title game. New Albany plays Senatobia for the No. 3 seed.
Spears did her part, as she has all season, scoring 43 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Her team (18-7), the tournament’s top seed, played without its point guard and shooting guard.
“When your two guards are out that’s what’s going to happen,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “We couldn’t get the ball down court. We couldn’t pass the ball. We couldn’t get the ball to the wing.
“Lafayette played hard; they wanted to win.”
The Lady Commodores (12-10), who were led by junior Janae Westbrook with 25 points, took a 17-12 in the first quarter and led 32-29 at halftime.
New Albany, behind nine points from Spears, raced to a 42-36 lead midway in the third quarter.
Westbrook and Shaniyah Buford combined to score the last 11 points of the period to give the Lady Commodores a 47-42 lead.
Spears tied the score 49-all with a layup with 4 minutes, 3 seconds remaining. Down the stretch, she scored the game’s final basket on a putback with 21 seconds left.
The Lady Bulldogs got the ball back late, but Lauren Cavender missed on a jumper attempt and Spears lost the rebound attempt out of bounds.
“(Cavender) was open,” Stroud said. “We knew they’d have three guarding Jazmine (inside).”