SCOOBA – The East Mississippi Community College basketball teams registered their fifth consecutive doubleheader sweep in MACJC North Division play by knocking off the Itawamba men's and women's teams during Monday's 'Sophomore Night' twin bill at Keyes T. Currie Coliseum. The Lady Lions snapped ICC's 16-game win streak by holding on for a 56-54 victory over the ICC women, while the Lions gained sole possession of first place in the division standings with a 63-51 nightcap triumph over the Indians.
Having already clinched spots in next week's (Feb. 25-28) MACJC State Basketball Tournament in Ellisville, both EMCC teams now enter Thursday's regular-season finale at Northeast Mississippi looking to avenge last month's sweep at the hands of the Tigers in Scooba. The EMCC women (11-11, 8-3) will head to Booneville aiming to lock up the No. 2 seed in the MACJC North with a road win over the Lady Tigers (14-7, 7-4). With a men's win over the Tigers (18-4, 8-3) on Thursday, the Lions (15-7, 9-2) would secure their first outright divisional crown since claiming four consecutive regular-season men's division titles en route to capturing four straight NJCAA Region 23 Tournament championships and subsequently making NJCAA Tournament appearances in Hutchinson, Kansas spanning the 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons. With losses at Northeast on Thursday, the EMCC women would collect a No. 3 seed behind ICC and Northeast in next week's Jones College-hosted state tournament, while the EMCC men would still earn a share of the division title with the Tigers but have to settle for the No. 2 tournament seed.
In Monday's EMCC-ICC matchup, the Lady Lions scored 14 unanswered points to take an 18-8 lead at the end of the opening quarter. With the Lady Indians continuing to struggle making shots from the field in the first half, EMCC held the visitors to another single-digit quarter by allowing just seven points during the second 10 minutes of action to jump out to a 29-15 halftime advantage.
The Lady Lions maintained their double-figure lead throughout most of the third quarter. After EMCC extended the margin to 16 points (38-22) midway through the quarter, however, Itawamba went on a 10-0 scoring run to cut the deficit to six points.
Following Tatyana Norment's buzzer-beating basket to end the third period, EMCC scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to push its lead back up to double digits (44-32). On her way to a game-high, 20-point effort (8-10 FGs) off the bench for the Lady Lions, Norment later hit a 3-pointer to lengthen the lead to 15 points (54-39) with less than four minutes remaining in the game.
The Lady Indians promptly responded by scoring eight unanswered points, including three straight buckets by Whitney Watkins, during a two-minute stretch to trim the deficit to seven points (54-47) with 1:32 left on the game clock. Though limited to just five points on 1-of-10 shooting for the game – 14 points below her season average as the MACJC's No. 2 scorer – ICC's Shaniyah Buford then drilled a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game (56-52) with 21.7 seconds remaining.
During the waning seconds, EMCC couldn't take advantage of a trip to the charity stripe and committed a backcourt turnover with eight ticks left to give Itawamba a last-second opportunity to either extend the game or win it in regulation following Kealy Wilson's put-back basket. However, Buford's forced three-point attempt at the buzzer fell short for the MACJC North Division women's champions.
Along with Norment's second 20-point effort of the season, fellow freshman Aamiya Rush, from West Point, recorded her fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds for Coach Sharon Thompson's EMCC Lady Lions.
In dropping their first decision since Nov. 13, the Lady Indians fell to 18-3 overall and 10-1 within the division. ICC was led Taneshia Miller and Kealy Wilson with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
In the men's nightcap, the home-standing Lions initially broke open a close contest that featured seven early lead changes by scoring the last 12 points of the half to secure a 26-17 halftime lead.
A three-point play by Dewayne Cox, courtesy of a Markedric Bell offensive rebound, capped a 10-2 EMCC spurt following the break that increased the Lions' lead to 17 points (36-19) five minutes into the second stanza.
Later in the half with the Lions still ahead by 14 points (51-37) with less than six minutes remaining in the game, the Indians cut the deficit to single digits (51-43) after back-to-back 3-pointers by Rance Champ and Akeem Kirkwood. Itawamba later pulled to within five points (56-51) with 48.3 seconds left on the game clock, but Terryonte Thomas drilled his third 3-pointer of the game to essentially seal the deal. Thomas and Bell each added two free throws over the final 15 seconds to complete EMCC's season series sweep over ICC for the second straight year.
One of eight Lion sophomores recognized during pregame ceremonies, Thomas, out of New Hope High School, led a trio of EMCC double-digit scorers with a game-high 17 points. Fellow sophomores Darrious Agnew, of Starkville, and Robert Davis Jr., of Clinton, followed with 13 and 11 points, respectively, for the winners.
Falling to 10-12 overall and 4-7 in division play, the Itawamba men likewise had three players score in double figures. Kendricus Carlton led the way with 13 points, while Ma'Darius Hobson and Shamar Brown added a dozen points apiece for the visitors.