The deciding factor in the latest installment of one of the county’s biggest rivalries came down to a single play pinning two of the area’s best players against one another.
With less than a minute remaining and the score tied, Jazmine Spears held the ball close to mid-court, eventually driving in the lane against Aspriona Gilbert, nailing an eight-foot shot to give New Albany the lead and eventually the 49-48 win over Myrtle.
“I knew I could take her one on one and she was backing off some, so I just did what came to mind and took the shot,” Spears said. “I got as close as I wanted to.”
“It worked out perfect for us, and we’ve worked on that play a lot with Spears going one-on-one, so I felt confident with the play,” NAHS head coach John Stroud added.
Up until that play, Myrtle controlled the game, fighting back from an 11-2 deficit to take the lead in the second quarter off of free throws and the bench play of Kiana Judon, who scored five points in the frame.
After going into the break up seven, 28-21, Judon made it a 10-point lead with her three-pointer to open the second half. New Albany slowly worked their way back into the game, producing an 8-0 run in the third and finding themselves down only four heading into the fourth quarter, 35-31.
“We tried to be focus and handle the press, but good teams are going to come back,” Myrtle head coach Chris Greer said. “They took a four-point lead and we came back and it was back and forth. Everyone got their four dollars worth.”
Spears was quiet until the fourth quarter with only six points before scoring 10 in the final frame, accompanied by eight points from Kebrina Lucas. The Lady Hawks were ahead by eight, 42-34, before a three by Lucas started the Lady ‘Dawgs' fourth quarter run. Spears made it a one-point game, and Lucas gave New Albany the lead late in the game before Judon tied it once more off her free throw.
After the Spears-Gilbert one-on-one play, Paris Sanders fouled Halle Knowles with 3.4 seconds remaining. Knowles connected on one of her two shots and Myrtle had an opportunity with .9 seconds left to make a play, but were unable to convert with Gilbert at the end.
“Spears started playing like she’s capable of in the fourth quarter,” Stroud said. “She got in foul trouble, and I kind of protected her, but it was just one of those nights where we couldn’t put the ball in the goal.”
“I had to play harder than I did in the first half,” Spears added. “I just have to give it my all and play ball in the second half.”
Spears finished with 16 points, 14 rebounds for the state’s top ranked team. Lucas added 15 for New Albany, while Gilbert led Myrtle with 19 and Judon scored 11 points.
The win marks New Albany’s fifth straight against Myrtle dating back to the 2008-2009 season, and with the two teams possibly meeting in next week’s Union County Tournament, Spears noted how big the rivalry has become.
“It’s very big and we just want to beat each other,” she said. “It’s very competitive and we all get into it. We’re all cool with each other, but when it comes down to it, we just want to play our game and beat the other.”
New Albany 76 Myrtle 69 (boys)
Malcolm Spears and Tadarious Coburn stepped up at different times to held lead New Albany over Myrtle, 76-69.
Spears paced the Bulldogs in the second quarter, scoring 11 of their 23 points, and Coburn’s 19 second half points helped New Albany earn their second win over the Hawks this season.
Spears and Kareem Brown each finished with 18 points for New Albany, while a quartet of Hawks finished in double figures, Robert Montgomery with 20, Cruz Weatherall with 16, Russ Yates with 13 and Heriah Dodson with 12 points.
New Albany will next travel to North Pontotoc on Tuesday, while Myrtle’s boys will face Belmont on Saturday and the Lady Hawks will next play on Tuesday versus Potts Camp.