CLINTON – Jacolby Mobley's game-winning, driving lay-up as the final horn sounded lifted the Lions of East Mississippi Community College to a thrilling 69-68 quarterfinal-round victory over Mississippi Gulf Coast Thursday afternoon at the NJCAA Region 23 Basketball Tournament being held at the A.E. Wood Coliseum on the Mississippi College campus.
With EMCC trailing by just a single point after Gulf Coast's Roger Woods converted only the back end of a two-shot foul with but 5.3 seconds left on the game clock, Mobley received the inbounds pass at the far end of the court and sped to midcourt where he was temporarily met by a trap of Bulldog defenders. Somehow the Starkville native broke free, raced down the left sideline and cut through the lane with just enough time to dart to the rim for the game-winning lay-in as time expired.
The climactic finish propelled the 20-6 EMCC Lions to Friday night's semifinal-round matchup against 19th-ranked Jones County Junior College. The 21-5 Bobcats posted a convincing 109-83 triumph over Southwest Mississippi during Thursday's first quarterfinal-round game. Friday's 6 p.m. contest pitting fifth-seeded EMCC with No. 1 seed JCJC will feature a rematch of last week's MACJC State Tournament semifinal-round meeting between the two teams. During last Wednesday's state semis in Fulton, the Lions claimed a 75-69 victory over Jones County.
Entering Thursday's contest against MGCCC with a 12-game regional winning streak as four-time reigning NJCAA Region 23 champions, head coach Mark White's EMCC Lions began a 15-3 run midway through the opening half on the way to posting a 38-30 halftime advantage. A Mack Foster 3-pointer to start the second stanza extended the margin to double figures.
The Bulldogs promptly responded with a 21-7 spurt that turned an 11-point deficit into their first lead of the second half at 51-48 with 12:38 remaining. Four ties and two lead changes later, the exciting affair entered the final minute of play with Gulf Coast owning a 65-63 lead following a pair of free throws by Woods. After the teams traded empty trips down the floor, Mobley got fouled with 32.7 seconds left with a chance to knot the score, but he misfired on his second attempt after making the first try to keep it a one-point game.
On Gulf Coast's ensuing possession, Chris Bilbo was fouled in the backcourt and the sophomore guard proceeded to convert both free throws and give the Bulldogs a 67-64 lead with 25 seconds still to play. Rather than opting for a quick two-point basket to cut into the lead, the Lions instead went for the tie and Foster obliged by a canning a clutch 3-pointer to deadlock the game at 67-all with 10 ticks left.
That's when Woods stepped to the line after being fouled in the backcourt by EMCC's Avery Woodson with only 5.3 seconds left in regulation. The game's final dramatic play was then set up when Woods missed the first free throw but sank the second attempt to give the Bulldogs the precarious one-point edge.
Mobley, a Tennessee-Chattanooga signee, fittingly finished the contest as East Mississippi's leading scorer with 20 points to register his eighth 20-point outing of the season. Devonta Pollard, of Kemper County, and Woodson, from Wayne County, followed with 16 and 12 points, respectively, with both players approaching double-double status by collecting nine rebounds apiece for the winners.
Finishing their season at 19-7, the MGCCC Bulldogs received a game-high 29 points from Woods. Bilbo added a dozen points for Gulf Coast.