ELLISVILLE – The Lions of East Mississippi Community College advanced to Thursday's MACJC state men's basketball championship game by rallying from a nine-point, second-half deficit to claim a 62-57 upset victory over 15th-ranked Pearl River Community College in Wednesday's semifinals of the state junior college basketball tournament being played at A.B. Howard Gymnasium on the Jones College campus.
In extending their current winning streak to eight consecutive games as MACJC North Division regular-season men's champions for the first time since the 2012-13 season, the 18-7 Lions advance to take on the host Jones Bobcats in Thursday's 7:30 p.m. men's championship game following the 5:30 p.m. women's championship contest pitting 13th-ranked host Jones against MACJC South Division runner-up Copiah-Lincoln. The EMCC-JC men's title match will be live streamed at www.EMCCAthletics.com/live.
In a rematch of last year's quarterfinal-round men's meeting between EMCC and eventual state champion Pearl River, the two teams battled through nine first-half ties before the Wildcats scored the final nine points of the half to take a 35-28 halftime lead. PRCC benefitted from a 21-10 rebounding advantage during the opening 20 minutes of play.
Coming out of the break, the Lions cut the deficit to three points (39-36) five minutes into the second stanza on a pair of free throws by former New Hope standout Terryonte Thomas. The reigning state men's champions then went on a 7-1 run to extend the margin to 46-37 by the 12:37 mark.
That's when EMCC sophomore forward Darrious Agnew went back to work inside to help fuel the Lions' second-half comeback. Fresh off Tuesday's career best-tying, 21-point effort in EMCC's 70-53 quarterfinal-round victory over East Central, the Starkville product scored 12 of his 18 points after halftime to lead the way. Agnew scored eight of the Lions' next 10 points to help cut the deficit to just four points (51-47) with around eight minutes left in the contest.
A pair of Dewayne Cox quick drives to the rim and another Agnew inside bucket set up a lead-changing 3-pointer by sophomore guard Robert Davis Jr. On his way to a game-high 19 points, Davis' third triple of the contest put the Lions back on top (56-54) to stay with 3:40 remaining.
Clinging to a narrow three-point lead, EMCC committed a pair of near-costly turnovers down the stretch to give the Wildcats a couple of final opportunities to take back the game. But, Pearl River came up empty on a pair of three-point attempts during the closing seconds, while Davis and Thomas each knocked down a pair of clutch free throws to account for the final margin.
Davis connected on 6-of-10 field goals, including 3-of-4 from beyond the three-point line, and 4-of-4 free throws for his game-high 19 points. Along with his 18 points, Agnew collected nine rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
As a team for the game to help overcome a 38-25 disadvantage on the boards, the Lions limited Pearl River to just 21 percent shooting (6-28 FGs) in the second half and only 32 percent accuracy (17-54 FGs) for the game, including an ice-cold 2-of-21 (9.5%) from behind the three-point arc. Held to a season-low 57 points by EMCC, including just 22 points after halftime, the Wildcats entered the game shooting a collective 51 percent from the field as a team and averaging 87.5 points per game on the season.
After winning their first 18 games of the year and ranking as high as seventh nationally in the NJCAA Division I poll, the Wildcats fell to 22-3 on the year with their three losses having come over the last seven games. Pearl River was led by Brandon Rachal and Eric Thornton Jr. with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
In search of the program's first modern day men's basketball state championship, the EMCC Lions most recently played in the state title game five years ago in dropping a 73-72 decision to the home-standing ICC Indians during the 2014 MACJC state finals in Fulton.