The Meridian Star
Clinging to a two-point lead with 11 seconds left in the girls 3A State Championship game, Southeast Lauderdale senior Jasmine Bush didn't think, she just reacted.
With Charleston storming back late in the fourth quarter, Bush stepped in front of a pass on defense and stole the ball. Moments later, she found herself on the free-throw line with the opportunity to put the the game out of reach and clinch a state title for Southeast.
“I was just like, I got to make them,” Bush said. “We have been practicing free-throws since I was a freshman, and this was a time where we really needed them.”
Bush calmly stepped to the line, sinking the first free-throw and then the second, as the Southeast fans erupted from the stands. Charleston would turn the ball over on its next possession, ensuring Southeast with a 63-59 win and a fifth 3A state championship.
“I always tell the girls, you are either going to win or lose the championship on free-throws,” Southeast head coach Joe Miller said. “If Jasmine missed those two shots, we would have probably lost. That is tremendous pressure, but once she knocked down that first shot, I knew she'd make the second one.”
Bush scored 21 points on 7/10 shooting and tallied eight rebounds to be named MVP of the game.
“Jasmine Bush had a huge ballgame for us,” Miller said. “She got in there and fought like a tiger in there underneath the goal. We weren't getting the ball in as well as we should have, but she is a force anytime she steps on the court.”
The Tigers were dealt an early blow, as Crystal Clay picked up three fouls in the first half and was forced to miss much of the action early on. Clay finished the game with 10 points and 10 rebounds in only 24 minutes.
Charleston took advantage of Clay's absence early on, stuffing the post and forcing Southeast to rely on senior Tay Ruffin on the outside. Ruffin made Charleston pay, shooting 4/7 from beyond the arch and leading Southeast through the first half. Ruffin finished the day with 20 points, nine rebounds and two steals.
“I was just telling myself I had to make those shots so my team could stay ahead,” Ruffin said. “Every time I made a three, they came back and scored. So I just said, I was going to keep up with my shot and shoot the ball like I know how to shoot it.
“I feel like I saved my best game for last. It's a great feeling, it's the best feeling I have ever felt.”
The championship was Miller's fourth with Southeast, as the Tigers also won under Miller's watch five years ago in 2008 as well as in 2006 and 2001.
“Anytime you win the championship, you are one of the best,” Miller said. “This team has some strong players. As coaches we always say, when somebody goes down somebody has to step up. Players have always stepped up for us this year.”
Senior Denisha Knight also came up big for Southeast as she ran the point while battling an injured ankle. Knight finished the game with seven points on 3/5 shooting while also tallying four rebounds and four assists. The injured Knight played all 32 minutes for Southeast.
“I have all the greatest respect for Crystal Clay and Denisha Knight battling through injuries today,” Miller said. “To play the last to games like they did, it was just unbelievable.”
The championship held an extra value for Southeast's four seniors, Bush, Clay, Ruffin and Knight. While it is hard to put into words the emotions of ending your high-school career on top, Clay did her best to sum up the feeling.
“I'm a champ baby,” Clay said. “We are all champs.”