TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Lions of East Mississippi Community College dropped a pair of hard-fought, single-digit tournament decisions against quality opponents during the Tallahassee Democrat Holiday Classic played at Bill Hebrock Eagledome on the campus of Tallahassee Community College. After dropping a 60-56 Thursday decision to Pensacola State College to open the tournament, the EMCC men battled back from a 20-point, second-half deficit to fall by just seven points, 86-79, to the 25th-ranked and host TCC Eagles in Friday's tourney nightcap.
As they did the previous day to tip off the tournament, the EMCC Lions struggled during opening-half action against Tallahassee by being outscored, 11-0, on second-chance points and outrebounded, 25-14, in the first half by the tourney hosts.
After falling behind by 20 points (48-28) two minutes into the second stanza on one of Leon Freeman-Daniels' eight 3-pointers on the night, the visitors answered with seven straight points on a Darrious Agnew free throw and consecutive treys by Dewayne Cox. From that point on, however, the Lions weren't able to significantly cut into the double-digit deficit until the final minutes of the contest.
Down by 18 points (84-66) with 2:26 remaining, the Lions were aided by four Tallahassee turnovers over the final two minutes of action. EMCC outscored the Eagles, 13-2, during the game-ending stretch to cut the final margin to seven points.
Cox, a freshman guard from Ripley, finished with a team-high 25 points off the bench on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 from the charity stripe. New Hope High School product Terryonte Thomas added 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists for EMCC, while Cam Horton followed with 16 points, five boards and three assists.
Guided by former EMCC head coach Mark White, the 13-3 TCC Eagles were powered by Freeman-Daniels' game-high 34 points, 13 rebounds and four steals. The reigning All-Panhandle Conference performer connected on 11-of-18 field goals, including a sizzling 8-of-12 from three-point range. Corey Douglas and Quentin Jackson followed with 17 and 13 points, respectively, for the winners.
Thursday's contest against Pensacola State featured a sluggish opening 20 minutes of play, as both teams seemed to show the effects of the Christmas break layoff. EMCC's dozen first-half turnovers and PSC's 30-percent, first-half shooting resulted in a 28-all deadlock at the halftime break.
After three more ties to begin the second stanza, the Pirates opened up a five-point lead (44-39) midway through the half. A 3-pointer by EMCC's Robert Davis Jr. cut the deficit to 48-47 with just under six minutes remaining in the contest. Following a scoreless three minutes of activity, PSC's Matt Johnson hit back-to-back shots to make it a five-point game again with 2:30 left.
The Lions responded with a pair of Horton free throws and a put-back basket by Darrious Agnew to get it back to a one-point contest (52-51) with a minute remaining in the game. Inside of a minute after a PSC bucket, Horton drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game to knot the score at 54-all. But, Mike McDougal answered right back with his own trey to reclaim the advantage for the Pirates. A costly turnover on EMCC's next possession and subsequent made free throws by Daryl Lewis basically sealed the victory for Pensacola State during the closing seconds.
Horton was the Lions' lone double-digit scorer on Thursday with a game-high 20 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the floor, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc, and 4-of-4 at the charity stripe. Cox and Terryonte Thomas added nine and eight points, respectively, for EMCC.
Pensacola State had four players score in double figures, led by Lewis' 13 points. McDougal and Johnson added 11 points apiece, while Willesley Butler contributed 10 points and a game-high nine rebounds to the Pirates' winning effort.
Coach Billy Begley's 6-4 EMCC Lions, along with Sharon Thompson's 3-5 Lady Lions, are slated to ring in the new calendar year with a Thursday home hoops doubleheader against Meridian Community College. A 5:30 p.m. women's game will be followed by a 7:30 p.m. men's nightcap at Keyes T. Currie Coliseum on the Scooba campus.