LITTLE RIVER -- The first half might have been a case of the nerves, but the second half was just plain nerve-racking.
After a sluggish start to Saturday's girls North-South All-Star Basketball Game at North Myrtle Beach High School, both teams bounced back to put on a show befitting a showdown of the state's top seniors. There were six lead changes in the second half before the North pulled away for a 69-56 victory.
It was the North's decisive 15-2 run over the final five minutes that proved the difference. As the all-stars began to develop team chemistry throughout the game, the North finally put it all together when it counted.
"We started out slow, partly because of nerves and playing in front of this crowd and partly because we weren't used to playing together," said the North's Nardia Robbins of York, who was named the game's MVP after scoring 13 points, pulling down nine rebounds and getting five steals.
"As the game went on, we started coming together as a team. It's strange because I didn't know any of these girls at the start of the week and now they're like family to me. It's been fun playing with such great players and getting to know them as people. I had played against a lot of these girls but didn't know them. I made a lot of good friends this week and had a great time."
Among her new friends and teammates was Brittany Carson of Spartanburg, who scored a game-high 14 points and made the key play in the North's late run. Leading just 54-52, she drove the lane for a layup and turned it into a three-point play that sparked a string of 13 unanswered points down the stretch.
The South was led by Jessica Jenkins of Orangeburg-Wilkinson, who registered a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Orangeburg-Wilkinson teammate LaTeia Brailey and La'aisha Myers of Crestwood added 11 points apiece for the South.
The first half looked less like an all-star game than a JV scrimmage. Both teams shot 21 percent from the floor and the two squads combined for more fouls and turnovers (47) than total points (45).
Neither team hit a field goal until more than four minutes into the game. The South took its first lead at 14-13, but the North pulled ahead for a 25-20 halftime advantage.
The South, which went 0-for-12 from 3-point range in the game, opened the second half on a 10-2 run, led by Johnsonville's Tia Singletary making a nice steal and layup and Beaufort's Jessica Polite hitting from outside for a 30-27 lead.
The North countered with an 11-2 spurt of its own, capped by baskets from Irmo's Brittany Jackson and Robbins, for a 38-32 edge. Carson hit a driving layup to stretch the North's lead back to five, 40-35.
The South scored six unanswered points, capped by a layup by Fort Dorchester's Karleen Paulin, to regain the lead at 41-40, which was followed by a string of seven straight points by the North for a 47-41 advantage.
"It got a little scary there in the second half because we would make a run, then they would make a run," said Robbins, who hit four free throws down the stretch to help seal the victory. "We finally decided to slow it down, work the offense, and it worked. It was like we came together as a team there at the end."
The back-and-forth action continued through the half until the South cut the deficit to 54-52 with five minutes remaining.
That triggered a 13-0 run by the North with Carson converting a three-point play and Jackson hitting a layup to put the North ahead 67-52 with one minute remaining.
• SOUTH BOYS 98, NORTH BOYS 91 -- Omar Sanders was a one-man wrecking crew for the North. Unfortunately for him, the South had the five-man variety.
Sanders scored 29 points and pulled down 17 rebounds to lead both teams in both categories and earn MVP honors, but the South had five players score in double figures to claim a victory in the boys game.
For Sanders, it was little solace for the way the season ended for his Spartanburg High team, which had a game-winning basket at the buzzer nullified by officials in the Class AAAA state championship game.
"That's part of the reason I played so hard, because that last game left a bad taste in my mouth and I didn't want to end my career like that," said Sanders, who also was motivated by the fact that he was left off the roster for the North Carolina-South Carolina All-Star Game. "I wanted to prove my point and I think I did."
But the victory was more important than any individual hardware for the South squad, which saw two players post double-doubles -- Mario Parker of Lower Richland with 14 points and 11 rebounds and Daryl Edge of North Myrtle Beach with 10 points and 10 boards.
Also scoring in double figures for the South were Myrtle Beach's Darius Hemingway with 14 points, Kimric Dixon of West Florence with 17 and Darion Canty of Scotts Branch with 20.
"We all became good friends from the first day here and practiced hard," said Canty, "and I think it showed out there."
In an otherwise tight game, the South used a 15-4 run over a five-minute span to pull away in the second half. The South built its first double-digit lead of the game just five minutes into the second half at 58-48, then Hemingway and Canty hit back-to-back baskets to put the South up 65-51.
Canty, Edge and Delanta McCoy added baskets to make it a 71-52 lead with 10 minutes remaining, and Dixon hit back-to-back jumpers for an 81-60 advantage.
The North tried to turn it back into a contest, closing the gap to 10 on Yavario Smith's 3-pointer, but Canty scored back-to-back baskets again to push the margin back to 14 with less than five minutes remaining.
Sanders and Smith, who finished with 23 points, hit 3-pointers to cut the deficit to seven, 91-84, but that was as close as the North got.