Bolstered by a season-high 13 made 3-pointers, the third-seeded East Mississippi Lions claimed a 91-85 first-round victory over second-seeded Mississippi Gulf Coast Tuesday afternoon at the MACJC State Basketball Tournament being held at Bobcat Gymnasium on the Jones County campus.
With Tuesday’s win, the EMCC men will join the Lady Lions in Wednesday’s semifinal-round action on the JCJC campus. The Lions will take on Copiah-Lincoln at 2 p.m. in men’s action, followed by the EMCC women against host Jones County at 5 p.m. The EMCC men swept Co-Lin in two previous meetings on the year, while coach Sharon Thompson’s top-seeded and 21-4 Lady Lions swept the Lady Bobcats during the regular season.
All of this week’s state tournament games are being televised on www.jcjc.tv. Fans can also access the games by logging onto www.jcjc.edu and clicking on the state tournament link.
In their opening-round tournament contest against Mississippi Gulf Coast, coach Mark White’s 16-9 Lions used an early 15-3 run to go from a 9-2 deficit to a 17-12 lead by the 13:08 mark of the first half. Sophomore Larry Foster of York, Ala., ignited EMCC’s early spark by hitting three consecutive three-point attempts. The Bulldogs made a bid to gain some breathing room late in the opening half, but Terence Bennett’s three-point play with 30 seconds left and Darian Donald’s trey at the halftime buzzer trimmed EMCC’s deficit to just a single point at 41-40.
Following a pair of lead changes to begin the second stanza, the Lions used a pair of 7-0 spurts to move ahead, 59-50, with 11 minutes remaining. After Cordell Pope’s back-to-back triples cut the deficit to three points (59-56), Coco Ware’s 3-pointer ignited a 10-2 EMCC rally that put the Lions in front by 11 points (69-58) with just over eight minutes left. However, Gulf Coast took advantage of four consecutive East Mississippi turnovers by making an 11-3 run to pull to within three points (72-69) with 4:19 left in the game.
The Lions responded with a Donald put-back basket and Foster’s lone two-point bucket of the game to go back on top by seven points (76-69). The Bulldogs answered with two free throws and a leaning jumper by Isaiah Jackson to get to within three points by the 2:50 mark. On his way to a season-high 20 points on 6-of-8 three-point shooting, Foster came up big with two clutch 3-pointers down the stretch to help EMCC mount an 84-75 advantage. The Bulldogs made one last attempt to cut into the deficit by scoring four straight points, but the Lions countered with timely 7-of-8 free-throw shooting over the final 40 seconds to pull away with the six-point triumph.
As a team, EMCC’s 13 made 3-pointers against Gulf Coast bettered the team’s previous season-best mark of 11 treys made during a November home loss to Pearl River. For the game, the Lions were 13-of-27 (48%) from beyond the arc, including 8-of-14 (57%) three-point accuracy during the second half against MGCCC.
In addition to Foster’s team-high 20 points, East Mississippi received 19 points apiece from Starkville’s Coco Ware and Donald of Columbus’ Caledonia High School. Bennett was also in double figures for the winners with 11 points, while Woodie Howard of Starkville just missed a double-double with nine points and a game-most dozen rebounds.
The 16-9 Bulldogs were led by Jackson and Justin Ray with 31 and 25 points, respectively.