As the only school from the MACJC’s North Division ranks to have both teams qualify, the East Mississippi Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams prepare for this week’s NJCAA Region 23 Basketball Tournament to be held Wednesday through Saturday at the A.E. Wood Coliseum on the Mississippi College campus in Clinton.
With both EMCC basketball teams set to compete in regional play the same year for the first time in three seasons, the MACJC North Division Champion Lady Lions will begin play Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. against MACJC State Tournament runner-up Southwest Mississippi. The four-time reigning NJCAA Region 23 Champion Lions are slated to tip off Thursday at 2 p.m. versus Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The regional semifinals will be contested Friday with the women playing the noon and 2 p.m. games, while the men’s semis are set to take place during the night session at 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday’s 6 p.m. women’s championship game will be followed by the 8 p.m. men’s title tilt.
Making their first regional appearance in three years, head coach Sharon Thompson’s 16-8 EMCC Lady Lions open NJCAA Region 23 tournament play with a Wednesday rematch against Southwest Mississippi. Last Tuesday in Fulton, the South No. 4 seed SMCC Lady Bears claimed a 66-61 first-round MACJC State Tournament win over North No. 1 seed East Mississippi en route to advancing to the championship contest before falling to Jones County.
The winner of Wednesday’s EMCC-SMCC quarterfinal-round women’s game will advance to meet the winner of the LSU Eunice- Pearl River first-round pairing during Friday’s semifinal-round action at 2 p.m. The other side of the women’s bracket features an opening-day matchup between MACJC State Champion Jones County and Copiah-Lincoln at noon on Wednesday, followed at 2 p.m. by the other quarterfinal-round game pitting Meridian and Baton Rouge. That initial semifinal-round women’s contest is slated for noon on Friday.
The EMCC Lady Lions are making their first regional appearance in Clinton since 2011, when they earned a 67-66 victory over Jones County in the quarterfinals before dropping an 80-72 overtime decision to rival Meridian in the semis. The previous year, the East Mississippi women also knocked off JCJC (71-56) in the quarters prior to falling to Baton Rouge, 76-71, in the semifinals. Back in 2009, Coach Thompson’s Lady Lions bested Northwest Mississippi (47-44 in quarters), Jones County (76-73 in semis) and Copiah-Lincoln (52-43 in finals) to advance to the NJCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship in Salina, Kan.
On the men’s side, head coach Mark White’s 19-6 EMCC Lions are bidding to become the first NJCAA Division I men’s basketball program in more than 40 years to participate in the NJCAA Tournament for five consecutive years. Southeastern (Iowa) Community College made five straight trips to Hutchinson, Kan., beginning in 1963 through 1967. Hannibal-LaGrange (Mo.) and Dodge City (Kan.) had previously accomplished the feat, as had Moberly Area (Mo.) Community College, which holds the all-time NJCAA Division I men’s basketball standard with eight consecutive national tournament appearances during the 1950s (1951-58).
Thursday’s NJCAA Region 23 quarterfinal-round men’s action at Mississippi College will tip off with a noon battle between top-seeded Jones County and No. 8 seed Southwest Mississippi. Following the 2 p.m. contest pitting fifth-seeded EMCC and No. 4 seed Mississippi Gulf Coast, Thursday’s night session will feature No. 2 seed and MACJC State Champion Itawamba against seventh-seeded Northwest Mississippi at 6 p.m. in front of the scheduled 8 p.m. nightcap between third-seeded Southern-Shreveport and No. 6 seed Pearl River.
The EMCC Lions are collectively 13-1 in NJCAA Region 23 Tournament play under White’s guidance with a current 12-game regional winning streak to their credit. After falling, 77-67, to Holmes in the 2009 regional semifinals, the East Mississippi men have since registered successive championship-game triumphs over Itawamba (2010), Southern-Shreveport (2011 & 2012) and Northwest Mississippi (2013). EMCC earned last year’s fourth consecutive trip to Kansas by topping Mississippi Delta (72-58 in quarters), Baton Rouge (68-60 in semis) and Northwest (66-62 in finals).
Winners of 10 of their last 12 games this season, the Lions most recently advanced to the championship game of last week’s MACJC State Tournament in Fulton with triumphs over Pearl River (73-68) and 19th-ranked Jones County (75-69) before falling, 73-72, to host Itawamba in Thursday’s title tilt.
All of East Mississippi’s basketball games played this week at the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Clinton will be video-streamed live on www.EMCCAthletics.com/live with EMCC Director of Digital Media Derek Cody set to call the play-by-play action.
This month’s NJCAA Division I Basketball Championships will take place March 17-22 in Kansas, with the men’s tournament being held in Hutchinson and the women’s championship contested an hour away in Salina.