By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – In Jemmye Ann Helms’ last contest as a high school girls basketball coach, the 47th Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star game was a back-and-forth contest that provided plenty of excitement at the end.
Helms, who is giving up coaching to become an associate principal at West Point High School, saw her North All-Star team rally from five points down in the final three minutes to defeat the South All-Stars 86-82 on Saturday afternoon at A.E. Wood Coliseum.
“It was fun to coach these kids that you go up against every year, and you don’t know what they’re like,” said Helms, who only had one day to work with her All-Star players before playing Saturday. “They’re really hard to stop.
“We had a group of good kids and I enjoyed being with them.”
Helms also enjoyed coaching the All-Star contest for rising seniors with one of her rivals as both an opposing coach and collegiate player. Stephanie Murphy, who was named Brandon’s new head coach following the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, coached her final game as a North coach before competing in the southern portion of Class 6A come the winter.
Murphy coached against Helms during her recent five-year tenure as Tupelo’s head coach and happened to play against Helms in the SEC when Murphy suited up for Ole Miss and Helms for Mississippi State.
“She’s been at Tupelo for a long time and she’s always done a great job with her program,” said the 37-year-old Helms. “She’s got a lot of class and her kids always play hard.
“She is intense and so I have enjoyed being with her this week and getting to be around her.”
Saturday’s All-Star game was pretty intense in its own right. The first half saw seven lead changes and seven ties.
Each squad led by as many as five points in the opening half. The South led 19-14 with just less than 12 minutes to play before halftime.
The North took a 41-36 advantage thanks to a pair of free throws by H.W. Byers standout and MAC All-Star sportsmanship award winner Alexis Hardaway (10 points, seven rebounds) with 2 minutes, 10 seconds remaining before intermission.
The North led 45-41 at halftime.
The second half would see a battle of No. 12s – Coldwater’s Jerontay Clemons for the North and Lawrence County’s Tiaria Griffin for the South. Clemons, the game’s defensive MVP with three steals and 14 rebounds, scored 11 of her team-high 19 points through the first 14 minutes of the final half, while Griffin, the offensive MVP, tallied 20 of her game-high 30 in the final 20 minutes.
But in the end, the game was ultimately decided by a post player. Myrtle’s Aspriona Gilbert (14 points, seven rebounds) scored nine points in the final 8:33, including a nice turnaround basket in the paint to give the North the lead for good with 21.4 seconds remaining.
“We wanted a little inside scoring right at the end,” Helms said, “because we went several trips and just jacked it up from outside, really didn’t take a good shot.
“When we started working it into our bigs, the Gilbert girl from Myrtle did a good job of backing them down and made two big buckets right at the end.”
Also coming up with crucial points for the North in the last five minutes were Oxford’s Erika Sisk (12 points, 7 of 8 on free throws) and Okolona’s Quinndella Ford, who also scored 12 and came up with a huge steal and two free throws to ice the game with 17.7 seconds left.
“Just unbelievable talent,” Murphy said of this year’s MAC All-Stars. “I think this is a good year for Mississippi as far as the talent that we have on the North and the South.
“It was a great game and both teams had great players. It ended up being a great contest for the fans.”