By Robert Wilson

Jackson Prep girls basketball coach Michael McAnally knows he has the makings of a possible MAIS Overall Tournament championship team this season: a college caliber scorer in senior guard and Alabama-Huntsville signee Andie Flatgard, six other experienced seniors who contribute in various ways, a solid bench and girls who play with great effort.

McAnally also knows his girls must be tested in the fire of tough regular season matchups to make it through the rugged Overall Tournament and win the championship, not done by Prep since 2006.

One of the storied girls basketball programs in MAIS history – Pillow Academy – and the second winningest active coach in country – Durwin Carpenter – tested Prep Tuesday night at Prep.

Thanks to a great defensive play by one of McAnally’s seniors – Olivia Smith blocked a 3-point attempt in the final seconds – Prep survived with a 44-41 victory, its 12th win without a loss this season.

Flatgard had 21 points, 5 assists and 2 steals and Smith added 6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocked shots and 2 steals and Prep limited Pillow 16.7 percent shooting from 3-point range to pull off the hard-earned victory. Prep held Pillow scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and led 40-32 before Pillow came storming back in the final 3 minutes to pull within 1 at 42-41. Flatgard made two free throws for a 44-41 cushion with 45.5 seconds to play and Pillow missed two 3-point attempts, including the last one that Smith blocked. 

“Pillow is probably the best team that we’ve played,” McAnally said. “They play, for the most part, five guards. They can all shoot the 3, they can all put the ball on the floor, they can all rebound. They put stress on our defense and our group weathered the storm well. Pillow is long, athletic, and physical. It was good for us to go through some adversity tonight and pull out a win.” 

It is the first time in McAnally’s 17-year girls coaching career that he has gotten off to a 12-0 start. Not even when he won Overall with MAIS Player of the Year Brooke Rhodes and had a 35-2 record in 2010 did he win this many to start a season.

“We’ve had a great start to our year,” said McAnally, who won his 578th game (365 girls and 213 boys) in 21 seasons, the last eight at Prep. “It was a great team effort. We have the luxury of running seven seniors out there every night. There’s not much that’s going to get us rattled. Maybe tonight a little bit. We haven’t been in a lot of tight games, That’s nice but it makes you a little bit ill prepared when you are in that moment.”

McAnally was coaching in the moment against one of the best in country in Carpenter, who was denied his 1,117th victory in his 46th season. Only Lamar Rogers of Clarkrange, Tenn., who began this season with 1,270 has more wins among active coaches. Carpenter is also the second winningest coach in Mississippi history, only trailing Doyle Wolverton, who won 1,249 games in from 1975-2014 at Leake Academy. Carpenter is 10th all time in career wins. He has 749 wins at Pillow and 357 in 20 seasons at Central Holmes.

“We had trouble running our offense and knocking down shots tonight,” said Carpenter, whose team dropped to 7-3 this season, the other two losses to defending Overall champion Leake Academy. “We got some good looks, but we didn’t make enough plays. Give Prep credit. They did a good job. This bunch is going to keep working and continue to improve.”

Senior Madeline Mattox led Pillow with 11 points and senior Georgia Caroline Self added 10. Sophomore Elise Howard had a game-high nine rebounds.

Pillow plays host to Leake, which is 12-0 and has won 39 consecutive games, Thursday night in Greenwood. Leake, which has beaten Pillow 62-43 at the Canton Academy Tournament and 47-44 at Leake this season, hasn’t lost since a 59-49 defeat Dec. 12, 2020 at Jackson Prep. Leake’s only other loss last season was a 73-67 decision at Pillow.