ALBANY -- Tiona Burley did a little high-step jump, danced and giggled when she was named the MVP of the Deep South All-Star High School Classic girls game Saturday night at Darton College, where the best seniors from Southwest Georgia squared off.
"I'm surprised. I didn't think I was going to get it,'' said Burley, who scored 16 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to help the South come back to win, 55-52. "I really wasn't thinking about winning anything. A lot of commotion was coming my way. There was a lot of arguing (between teams) on the court. But this was so much fun.''
Especially for the South -- a team made up of players from the Albany metro area. The South took Burley's lead and came back from 45-31, outscoring the North 24-7 down the stretch.
"Tiona did an excellent job of rebounding and taking her time taking her shots,'' said Albany High coach Telly Turner, who coached the South. "She played pretty much the way she did during the season.''
Burley, who has signed with UNC-Charlotte, averaged 21 points and 18 rebounds this season, leading Mitchell County to the Elite 8 in the Class AA playoffs. She is a dominating force inside, but she put the All-Star Game away with four free throws in the final minute, including bagging two with 6.6 seconds left to give the South it's final margin of victory.
Bainbridge's Alexis Burke, who won the 3-point shooting contest that took place between games, just missed a 3 to send the game into overtime, and Burley pulled down her 15th rebound of the night to end.
The North was comprised of All-Star seniors from the Southwest Georgia area surrounding Albany -- from Americus to Cairo. The North led most of the first half (the teams played two 20-minute halves) before the Burley and Worth's Christie Smith combined for an 8-3 run to take a 24-23 lead.
Thomas County's Jaleshia Graham, who finished with nine points, then hit a free throw with 5.0 seconds left knot it at 24-24.
Randolph-Clay's Destiny Mitchell, who dominated the game at times, helped give the North a 16-8 lead early, and took over in the opening moments of the second half, nailing a pair of shots, grabbing three rebounds and handing out two assists to Early's Nett Reed to lift the North to a comfortable 40-27 lead.
Mitchell finished the game with 12 points, 10 rebounds, three steals, two assists and two blocks. But she didn't take any shots down the stretch. Reed scored 11 second half points to finish with 14.
The South saw several players shine as Lee County's Lindsey Crawford finished with 11 points, four rebounds and two blocks, and Dougherty's Lakandra Beeks finished with 12 points, including eight in the second half.
Albany's Jasmine Myers hit a free throw with 1:01 left to tie things at 48-48, and then Mitchell County's Kadeemya Cooper made the steal of the night and was fouled on her drive. Cooper made both free throws with 49.3 seconds left to give the South its first lead of the second half, and Dougherty's Tiara Todd made a steal and Burley made two free throws to make it a 52-48 game with 41.9 seconds left.
"That was really a lot of fun,'' Turner said. "All of these girls are going to college whether they are playing basketball or not. They are all intelligent. This was really awesome.''