New Albany has a flair for the dramatic and once again came from behind to top Myrtle, capturing the Union County Girls Championship, 53-45, Saturday night.
A packed house on Myrtle’s home court watched the Lady Hawks command most of the game until the fourth quarter. Down by nine, New Albany went on a 21-4 run to close the game and capture their third straight UCT title.
“I don’t know what it is with our team, but you’d think in the Union County finals, you’d come out with a little more urgency in the first three quarters,” NAHS head coach John Stroud said. “In the last quarter, we turned the pressure up on them and finally got the ball inside. That’s the difference in the game.”
Neither team had a strong start, with Myrtle clinging to a two-point lead after the first quarter. The Lady Hawks started hitting their shots in the second, as a three-point basket by Jenna Jordan put Myrtle ahead by 10. Down 24-17 and with Aspriona Gilbert picking up her third foul before the break, New Albany managed two late baskets to cut the deficit to three at the half.
Gilbert was not the only one in foul trouble in the third, as a trio of Lady Bulldogs (Jazmine Spears, Micha Washington and Nyambi Penson) all notched their third fouls in the frame. Spears made it a one-point game before Myrtle posted five straight, including a three-pointer by Meshay Cox.
New Albany’s scoring problems continued into the fourth quarter, and free throws by Keanna Cox gave the Lady Hawks a nine-point lead, 41-32. At that point, New Albany took over on their late run, hitting 14-of-15 free throws in the frame, eight from Kebrina Lucas, who played a large part in the comeback.
“She stepped up and played like a senior is supposed to play,” Stroud said. “Jazmine was sick and didn’t play much in the third quarter, so we had to overcome some adversity.”
“We needed to make all of our free throws, because normally we don’t make all of them, and that helped that we made most of them,” Lucas added. “This was like a comeback because we were down the entire game, so we had to fight to come back and win. They’ve always been competition against us, because they have a good squad and they cause problems for us.”
Lucas finished with 15 points to lead New Albany (16-2), while Spears added 13 and Washington added 11.
Meshay Cox led Myrtle (17-5) with 15 points, followed by Gilbert with 14.
New Albany has now won six straight against Myrtle, a feat Stroud is proud his team has accomplished given the talent of the Lady Hawks.
“Myrtle’s a good team, but we played around with them too long, and we finally started playing at the end of the game,” he said. “I’m pleased that we worked hard and made our free throws only had 11 turnovers.”
“It was ugly, but it’s still a Union County Tournament win.”
New Albany 85 Myrtle 74 (boys)
The five Bulldog seniors have waited a long time for this moment.
Not since 2007 has New Albany won a Union County Championship in boys basketball, but thanks to the help of this class, led by Malcolm Spears, the Bulldogs hoisted the UCT trophy after defeating Myrtle, 85-74.
“We’ve been wanting to win one since we were freshmen, and we haven’t been able to do it the last three years, so we’re glad to have won one for us five seniors,” Spears said.
Spears’ 24 points helped the Bulldogs, who were without leading scorer Tadarious Colburn for a majority of the game due to foul trouble. With 12 first quarter points, Spears and the ‘Dawgs jumped to a 30-14 lead at the end of the frame.
A physical battle throughout, New Albany’s foul trouble helped Myrtle back into the game, and Cruz Weatherall hit a triple to make it a 41-36 game. Weatherall’s basket capped a 20-8 Hawk run before the break.
“Anytime you build a lead and you let them score with the clock stopped, they’re going to catch up real quick, especially Myrtle,” NAHS head coach Brad Gray said. “They shoot foul shots really well, so they could catch up pretty quickly. They started making shots and had a couple turnovers and got back into the game.”
“We were fortunate to hang on.”
Heriah Dodson helped Myrtle stay close in the third, scoring eight-straight points to keep the deficit in single digits, 58-50. Steven Taylor made it a five-point game with his three-pointer to open the fourth, but a 10-0 run by New Albany created some space. The Hawks managed a late run, but were forced to foul, sending Spears and Daniel Drummond to the line to close the game.
“I just wanted to give us a boost since Tadarious couldn’t play much,” Spears said. ”I knew I had to step up because he’s been our force this year, and there are going to be a lot of fouls because we’re rivals, and we played tougher in this game than we would in other games.”
Behind Spears’ 24 points, Kareem Brown finished with 13. New Albany’s depth came into play again, as the Bulldogs’ bench outscored Myrtle’s, 24-8.
“If we don’t have the depth we have, we may be at .500,” Gray said. “I tell my kids all the time that they might not get to play one night, but we might need them to win the next, so they have to be ready every time their number is called up.”
Robert Montgomery led Myrtle (12-11) with 23 points, followed by Taylor with 16, Dodson with 14 points and Russ Yates with 11.
The win gives New Albany (17-2) their first UCT title since 2007 when the Bulldogs won at West Union. While it was an intense game, Gray notes the passion of the fans bringing life to the annual tournament.
“Any time you win the Union County Tournament, it’s huge,” he said. “The atmosphere tonight was more like a prizefight than a basketball game, but that’s the great thing about playing and coaching basketball here. Anytime you win the county tournament, it’s big, especially when it’s both boys and girls.”