ELLISVILLE, Miss. – The East Mississippi basketball teams both came up short Wednesday in their respective quests of reaching the championship game of the 2009 MACJC State Basketball Tournament. The EMCC men dropped a 76-72 decision to Copiah-Lincoln, while the Lady Lions fell, 59-54, to host Jones County in semifinal-round tournament action of the JCJC-hosted event played at Bobcat Gymnasium.
The 21-5 Lady Lions and the 16-10 Lions will now wait to see whom they will face in next week’s NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Clinton. Set to be hosted by Mississippi College, the four-day regional tournament will take place Monday through Thursday (March 2-5). Men’s opening-round play is slated for Monday, while the women will tip off during Tuesday’s first-round action.
In men’s action Wednesday on the JCJC campus, the third-seeded Lions of the North Division couldn’t recover from a 38-29 halftime deficit on the way to dropping a four-point decision. EMCC controlled the game for the better part of the opening half, jumping out to a 13-7 lead on a Darian Donald 3-pointer at the 11:39 mark. The Lions held the advantage until Co-Lin’s Dwayne Brown scored on a tip-in to give the fourth-seeded Wolves of the South Division a 26-25 lead with three minutes remaining.
The momentum of the game changed dramatically during the final minute of the opening half. Following Larry Foster’s driving basket to pull the Lions to within a bucket (31-29), Co-Lin’s Torrian Sanders was fouled on a drive to the basket. In the midst of Sanders shooting free throws, the EMCC bench was hit with a technical foul. Trent Hutchin connected on both free throws as a result of the technical and Sanders converted his pair of charity tosses. With time running down in the half, Hutchin was fouled by Woodie Howard while attempting a three-point shot, resulting in three more free throws and a second technical foul called on the EMCC bench at the start of the intermission. Hutchin nailed all three charity tosses and added two more freebies assessed at the start of the second stanza to lengthen the Wolves’ lead to 40-29.
Despite incurring a 25-10 foul discrepancy and being outscored, 26-7, at the line, the Lions battled throughout the second half. EMCC was able to gradually cut into the double-figure deficit, shaving the margin to four points on a couple of occasions midway through the period. Fresh off a season-best, 20-point effort in Tuesday’s 91-85 first-round win over Mississippi Gulf Coast, Foster canned a 3-pointer at the 6:54 mark to trim the deficit to three points (56-53). Co-Lin’s Hutchin answered with a trey, but Foster kept the margin at three points by nailing another triple with 5:12 remaining.
However, the Wolves responded with a Rob Wallace 3-pointer and a fade-away baseline jumper by Hutchin to put Co-Lin ahead by eight points (64-56). With Copiah-Lincoln in the bonus, the Wolves sealed the victory by hitting 10-of-13 free throws over the final 1:42 to ice the win and advance to Thursday’s title tilt.
Aided by 5-of-10 three-point shooting, Starkville’s Coco Ware led the Lions with 21 points, while Foster and Donald followed with 14 and 13 points, respectively. Boasted by a perfect 19-of-19 effort from the charity stripe and 9-of-14 field-goal shooting, Hutchin topped all scorers with 41 points. Brown and Wallace added 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the winners.
In women’s semifinal-round action Wednesday, coach Sharon Thompson’s top-seeded Lady Lions couldn’t overcome a poor shooting effort (17-55 FGs for 31%) in addition to being hampered by 28 turnovers. Leading by a 29-25 halftime score, the Lady Bobcats took advantage of some empty offensive possessions by EMCC early in the second half to mount a 38-27 lead by the 13:39 mark. East Mississippi chipped away at the deficit throughout the half, cutting the margin to a single point (47-46) on an Angelique Burtts put-back basket with 5:41 remaining.
Second-seeded Jones County from the South Division pushed the lead back up to six points (54-48) by the 3:42 mark on a three-point basket by Erica Moore. The Lady Lions made a run by scoring the next six points and knotting the score at 54-54 with 1:42 left in the contest. Taking advantage of a pair of JCJC miscues, Starkville’s Sanitra Bush scored on a feed from sophomore point guard Kottia White of Jackson Murrah. White then found Martika Hull of Southeast Lauderdale in the post for the freshman’s first basket of the game. White capped the run by scoring in the lane to tie the score at 54-all heading down the stretch.
After the two teams traded turnovers in the open court, Ashley Lee put the host Lady Bobcats on top by a basket. Following Bush’s miss on the other end, JCJC’s Brittany Leverett rebounded her own missed shot to maintain the possession. Demara Bolton’s pair of free throws and Burtts’ subsequent pass out of bounds under the EMCC basket sealed the Lady Lions’ fate and snapped their 11-game winning streak.
Burtts, a Georgia State signee from Conyers, Ga., registered her sixth double-double of the season with 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Lady Lions. Bush was the only other EMCC player in double figures with 14 points. Lee and Bolton paced the Lady Bobcats with 15 and 12 points, respectively.