CLINTON, Miss. (EMCC Athletics) East Mississippi Community College's 19-game women's basketball winning streak came to an abrupt halt with Wednesday's 56-53 opening-round setback to Northwest Mississippi in the NJCAA Region 23 Basketball Tournament being played at A.E. Wood Coliseum on the Mississippi College campus.
Including last week's memorable three-day MACJC Tournament run in Scooba that resulted in the school's first women's basketball state championship since the 1983-84 season, EMCC's 24-3 Lady Lions hadn't lost on the hardwood since dropping a 79-52 decision at Shelton State, now ranked fourth nationally, back on Nov. 25 in Tuscaloosa. EMCC's only other defeat of the season came at Pearl River (61-57) also in November.
After the Lady Lions had swept Northwest (71-62 & 61-54) and the rest of the MACJC's North Division (12-0) during the regular season, the year's third EMCC-NWCC meeting got off to a slow start offensively for both teams. With EMCC shooting just 22 percent from the field and Northwest at 20 percent during the opening 10 minutes of play, the Lady Lions managed to hold a slim 24-22 halftime edge despite struggling from the field (9-34 FGs for 26%) throughout the first half.
Following the halftime break, Northwest gained some momentum by shooting 73 percent (8-11 FGs) during the third quarter. Zanaiyah Daniels' 3-pointer toward the end of the period gave the Lady Rangers a 41-36 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
A competitive final quarter of basketball ensued as the two teams battled through six lead changes. EMCC's Tye Metcalf, the current NJCAA and MACJC Women's Basketball Player of the Week for her solid, all-around play during last week's MACJC Tournament, made her presence felt down the stretch against Northwest. The two-time, all-conference backcourt performer hit a jumper and then connected on a pair of free throws to temporarily put the Lady Lions back on top (46-45) midway through the quarter. The lead then changed hands five more times over the next four minutes to set up an eventful finish.
Following another Daniel Trey basket that gave Northwest back the lead (52-50) with just under a minute remaining in the game, EMCC's Topazia Hawkins found Aamiya Rush inside for a game-tying layup. The Lady Rangers answered when Kayla Freeman scored the go-ahead basket with 13 seconds left.
During a final exchange of possessions, the Lady Lions ultimately had a chance to either knot the score or possibly pull out the last-second victory. But, Hawkins' layup attempt wouldn't fall and her subsequent free throw try didn't connect either after rebounding her own miss with just 1.7 ticks left on the game clock. After Hawkins accidentally banked in the second charity toss on an apparent miss attempt to potentially gain back ball possession during the waning seconds, Northwest was able to inbound the basketball and get fouled. Morgan Hodum converted the two free throws with less than a second remaining to close out the game's scoring.
Metcalf finished with 20 points, including eight points during the final quarter, to lead all game scorers. The Southaven product also totaled five steals, three assists, two rebounds and a blocked shot. EMCC freshman forward Ja'Mia Hollings, out of West Point, registered her 15th double-double of the season with 12 points and 15 rebounds to go along with her three steals and three blocks.
Improving to 16-9 overall on the year, Northwest was led by Freeman's 12 points. Daniel and Mallory Russell added 11 points apiece for the Lady Rangers.