MERIDIAN – The preseason 11th-ranked East Mississippi Community College men's basketball team successfully tipped off the 2013-14 season with a hard-fought 82-76 road win over rival Meridian Community College Thursday evening at Graham Gymnasium. In the women's contest, the host MCC Lady Eagles overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to hand the visiting EMCC Lady Lions their first loss of the new season by a final tally of 57-52.
In Thursday's nightcap, the Lions trailed early against the Eagles but recovered to take a 10-point lead (31-21) late in the half before settling for a 40-35 halftime advantage. The visitors continued to own a slim lead following intermission and built the margin back up to double digits (58-48) midway through the second half on the heels of back-to-back baskets from Davon "Chuck" Ester.
With EMCC still nursing a slim four-point lead (63-59) at the 8:10 mark, Meridian went on a 13-2 run over the next three minutes to claim a 72-65 advantage with 5:27 remaining in the contest. MCC freshman guard Trae Dunson scored 10 of his team-high 17 points during that stretch to give the Eagles the temporary advantage.
Coach Mark White's Lions responded by scoring seven unanswered points on an Avery Woodson basket, two free throws by former McDonald's All-American Devonta Pollard and a 3-pointer from Meridian High School product Antonio Finley to knot the score at 72-72 with 3:40 remaining. After Meridian reclaimed a brief 73-72 lead on a free throw by Brandon Daniels, EMCC nailed down its ninth straight series win over the Eagles by reeling off nine unanswered points.
After being saddled with foul trouble for the majority of the contest, Woodson, out of Wayne County High School, scored all 10 of his points over the final eight minutes of the contest to help secure EMCC's season-opening victory.
Making his EMCC debut after transferring from the University of Alabama, Pollard finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field. The former Kemper County High School standout also led the Lions with seven rebounds in addition to being credited with three steals and two blocked shots.
Mack Foster added a dozen points for the victors and Ester followed with 11 to round out EMCC's quartet of double-digit scorers.
Now 0-2 on the year, the Meridian men also received 14 points apiece from Will Sheriff and Kwame Brown.
In the women's contest, EMCC's Lady Lions used a 10-1 run midway through the first half to grab a lead that would grow to 12 points (35-23) by halftime on the strength of a 12-3 spurt to close the opening 20 minutes of play. That double-digit advantage would be maintained until midway through the second half when the Lady Eagles turned the game around.
After the visitors went back up by 11 points (45-34) on a Jaylen Cox basket with a little more than eight minutes left in the contest, Meridian completely changed the game's momentum with a 15-1 rally over a five-minute stretch. Despite falling behind for the first time since early in the contest, the Lady Lions regrouped to reclaim the advantage (50-49) on two made free throws and a leaner in the lane by Takera Mitchell.
However, critical turnovers, missed free throws and cold three-point shooting over the final few minutes spelled doom for the EMCC women. Meanwhile, Meridian connected on all six free throw attempts over the final 32.4 seconds to nail down the five-point victory.
Falling to 2-1 on the young season, Coach Sharon Thompson's EMCC Lady Lions were led by Kyra Gulledge's 12 points and 12 rebounds. The former H.W. Byers High School product scored 10 of her dozen points on 5-of-5 shooting in the opening half. Mitchell, from Wayne County, followed with 11 points, four rebounds and four assists. Cox, out of West Harrison High School, added a solid all-around game with eight points, seven boards and five assists.
The 2-0 MCC Lady Eagles were led by Miaya Crowder and Kristen Sampson with 18 and 15 points, respectively.
The East Mississippi basketball teams are set to jointly tip off their home schedule on Thursday (Nov. 14) by playing host to East Central Community College. A 5:30 p.m. women's game will be followed by a 7:30 p.m. men's contest at Keyes T. Currie Coliseum on the Scooba campus. With EMCC media director Derek Cody on the call, the live broadcasts of East Mississippi basketball games this season will be video-streamed live at www.emccathletics.com/live.
Contact: David Rosinski, EMCC Sports I