By Gene Phelp/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – New Albany’s Lady Bulldogs, missing two starting guards, limped into Tupelo ranked No. 1 in the state for Thursday’s final regular-season game.
The full-court Tupelo pressure nearly knocked the crippled visitors down for the count and from the ranks of the unbeaten.
However, New Albany, 20 points ahead on the scoreboard early in the second half, survived the furious Lady Wave rally to escape with a 54-49 victory in the non-division game.
“When you don’t have your two guards, it’s like playing a football game without your quarterback,” New Albany coach John Stroud said. “Tupelo’s got a good pressure defense. We won’t have a playoff game better than that.”
New Albany (25-0) played without point guard Porche White, who’s sidelined with a stress fracture in her foot, and guard Paris Sanders, who’s out with a separated shoulder.
Stroud hopes to have both players back for the postseason, which begins next week with division tournament play. “They’re both week to week,” he said.
The Lady Bulldogs’ big gun, freshman forward Jasmine Spears, scored a game-high 20 points, but only six came in the second half after she twisted an ankle. Spears and post player Micha Washington combined to score 24 points in the first half to give their Class 4A team a 32-14 halftime lead.
“That’s what we’ve done all year,” Stroud said of his team’s powerful inside game. “In the second half, Tupelo turned the pressure up and we didn’t have the guards to handle the ball. Teams usually don’t press us because we have speed in our backcourt” with White and Sanders.
Tupelo coach Stephanie Murphy said her Class 6A team got good looks against New Albany’s matchup zone, they just couldn’t score in the opening 16 minutes.
“I thought we passed the ball too much on the outside instead of being aggressive and going to the basket,” she said. “We never got into an offensive rhythm in the first half, so it was hard to start pressing.”
Kabrina Lucas, finished with 15 points, scored on a layup in the early moments of the third quarter to give the Lady Bulldogs a 34-14 lead.
Tupelo (18-8) responded to cut New Albany’s lead to 42-30 after three quarters.
The Lady Wave, behind the defensive and offensive play of Antoinnette Riddle and Kari Copeland, rallied to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 52-47 with 33 seconds left. A steal and layup by Riddle closed the gap.
Amber Jackson’s added a putback with 20 seconds showing to make it 52-49.
“We’re not a team that’s going to lay down,” Murphy said. “This was a playoff-type game, and for us to battle that way against the best team we’ve played, showed me a lot.
“We can see now that our pressure can give teams a lot of problems. We’ve got to learn to bring that intensity and execution for 32 minutes.”
Jackson led Tupelo with 15 points while Riddle added 13.
(B) Tupelo 76, New Albany 66
Deontaye Ewing scored a team-high 19 points, which included a key 3-pointer with 2:05 remaining, as Tupelo won its 19th game.
Moments before Ewing’s basket, Malcolm Spears had sank a 3-point bomb to cut the Golden Wave’s lead to 66-62.
Tupelo (19-8) got 14 points from Jeremy Foster and 11 from Chris Brooks.
New Albany (18-8) was led by Devonte Berry with a game-high 22. Spears and Adrian Gamble scored 12 apiece.