The Lady Lions of East Mississippi are one win away from advancing to the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship after posting a 76-73 victory over MACJC state champion Jones County in Wednesday’s semifinals of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament. EMCC will meet No. 9 Copiah-Lincoln in Thursday’s regional championship set for a 6 p.m. tip-off at A.E. Wood Coliseum on the Mississippi College campus.
After hanging on for a 47-44 opening-round win over Northwest Mississippi, head coach Sharon Thompson’s 23-5 Lady Lions jumped out of the gates quickly against Jones County. Sophomore playmaker Kottia White of Jackson Murrah opened the contest with back-to-back 3-pointers to help stake the EMCC women to an early lead. East Mississippi’s advantage reached double figures midway through the opening period and lengthened to 19 points (34-15) on a Jasmine Abrams bucket late in the half. The Lady Bobcats outscored EMCC, 13-5, over the final six minutes of the first half to cut the deficit to 11 points (39-28) by the break.
Entering the contest winners of seven straight games, the Lady Bobcats chipped away at EMCC’s lead throughout the second stanza. Consecutive buckets by Demara Bolton pulled JCJC to within four points (51-47) with 11:46 remaining. The Lady Lions countered a few minutes later with back-to-back baskets by former Southeast Lauderdale standout Martika Hull to push the lead back up to eight points (58-50) by the 8:39 mark.
With EMCC being slowed by 18 second-half turnovers and 30 miscues for the game, Jones County reeled off 10 unanswered points to take its first lead of the contest (60-58) on a TeAnna Carter basket with 4:30 left. However, White answered promptly to knot the score at 60-60. The two teams traded buckets and were tied two more times before Bolton nailed a trey to give JCJC a 67-64 lead with 2:12 on the clock. Subsequent scores by East Mississippi’s Hull and Angelique Burtts over the next minute were answered by a pair of Ashley Lee free throws to give the Lady Bobcats a narrow 69-68 lead heading to the final minute of the contest.
JCJC’s Brigit Taylor came up empty on a pair of critical free throws with 38.6 seconds left. In contrast, EMCC’s Abrams calmly knocked down both ends of a 1-and-1 opportunity to put the Lady Lions on top for good. Following a Bolton miss on one end, White found Brittani Jones with a long pass for a fast-break lay-up to give EMCC a 72-69 lead. A Lady Bobcat turnover and a pair of charity tosses by both White and Jones in the waning seconds sent East Mississippi into the regional finals with a three-point triumph.
Shooting 54 percent (31-of-57 FGs) from the field as a team for the game, the Lady Lions were led by Hull’s game-high 21 points, which came on 10-of-13 field-goal shooting including a perfect 6-of-6 in the second half. White followed with 17 points and nine assists, while Porterville’s Javitia Eades and Burtts also finished in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Columbus’s Abrams added nine points to go along with her game-most 11 rebounds and five blocks.
Limited to just 38-percent shooting (26-of-68 FGs) for the game, the Lady Bobcats were led by Carter’s 19 points. Bolton and Consuela Tucker had 15 and 13 points, respectively.
The Lady Wolves of Co-Lin prevailed in both of the regular-season matchups against EMCC, claiming a 69-50 victory in Wesson back in November and winning, 62-43, in Scooba on Jan. 3.
East Mississippi is bidding to make the school’s first appearance in the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship since 1978, when former head coach Richard Mathis’s 31-1 Lady Lions finished as national runners-up to Panola Junior College of Texas. This year’s national women’s tournament will take place March 17-21 at the Salina Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kansas.