EMCC Lady Lions claim MACJC hoops title


From school reports

SCOOBA – The host Lady Lions of East Mississippi Community College won their 19th consecutive game to claim the school's first MACJC women's basketball championship in 36 years with a thrilling 87-73 double-overtime victory over 10th-ranked Jones College during Thursday's title tilt of the MACJC Basketball Tournament held this week on the Scooba campus.

The opportunity to dethrone the three-time reigning state women's champions only became possible when EMCC sophomore guard Taylor Lattimore drilled not one but two buzzer-beating 3-pointers to extend the championship contest played in front of an electric, jam-packed Keyes T. Currie Coliseum crowd.

Lattimore's late-game heroics began with EMCC trailing by four points (62-58) during the waning seconds of regulation. She first hit 2-of-3 free throws with 5.5 seconds remaining to cut the deficit in half. LaMiracle Sims then missed an opportunity to possibly seal the win for the Bobcats by converting just the front end of a two-shot foul with 1.5 ticks left to keep it at a one-possession game. Following an EMCC timeout, Lattimore took an inbounds pass from Tye Metcalf and nailed an acrobatic trey to send the game into its first extra session.

To their credit, the Bobcats answered by getting two inside buckets from Sims to begin the first extra session. Though the Lady Lions trailed the entire first overtime, they seemed to gather some initial spark after Jones' Daja Woodard was ejected from the game for throwing a punch. The all-state forward had collected a double-double (18 points & 10 rebounds) prior to having to leave the contest. Later in the first five-minute period and still trailing by three points (69-66), Lattimore produced some additional highlights by connecting another last-second 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to send the game into a second extra session tied at 69-all.

With an extra boost of momentum in hand, the second overtime belonged to the home team as the Lady Lions scored the first nine points of the session on baskets collected by EMCC's first-team, all-state tandem comprised of Metcalf and freshman forward Ja'Mia Hollings. The duo combined for 16 of the team's 18 points during the final extra session, while Jones could manage only two baskets and failed to hit the mark on multiple long-range trey attempts.

After trailing at the ends of the first (16-12), second (34-29) and third (45-41) quarters as well as being down by as many as eight points (39-31), the Lady Lions took their first lead (56-55) since early in the second quarter when Hollings converted inside on an entry pass from Maddie Riley with 1:22 left in regulation. Destiny Haymer later answered a Riley inside bucket with her second straight 3-pointer to put the Bobcats back on top and set the table for the climactic finish to the instant classic.

With four players scoring in double figures, the Lady Lions were led by Lattimore's 27 points – one shy of her season high coming against Mississippi Delta a month ago. Along with sinking 11-of-13 free throws, she connected on four 3-pointers in a dozen attempts. However, none were more clutch than the pair of triples she knocked down to keep EMCC's championship hopes alive. The former Jackson State transfer out of Memphis also had five assists, four rebounds and three steals in the contest.

"Taylor didn't shoot it very well for most of the tournament, but she made some big shots for us every game, especially tonight," Thompson said of the second-team, all-state guard. "When she's making shots, everybody feeds off of that and she gets us going with those 3's."

Hollings, from West Point, notched her 14th double-double of the season with 19 points and a season-most 17 rebounds. Metcalf, out of Southaven, was solid all-around once again for the Lady Lions with 18 points, six assists and six rebounds. Riley, a product of Velma Jackson High School, also registered a clutch double-double with 10 points and 13 boards for the winners.

Jones also had four players in double digits, led by Sims' double-double effort of 22 points and 15 rebounds. Keyara Jones added 13 points, while Haymer approached a triple-double with 11 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Bobcats.

Following earlier tournament wins over Mississippi Gulf Coast (53-47) and Southwest Mississippi (62-53) during the quarterfinals and semis, respectively, the Lady Lions' dramatic victory over Jones College marked the second straight year that an EMCC team has knocked off the Bobcats in the MACJC championship game to claim long-awaited state basketball titles. A year ago in Ellisville, Coach Billy Begley's EMCC Lions posted consecutive wins over East Central, Pearl River and host Jones to earn the Lions' first men's hoops state championship since the early 1930s.

With their first state title in women's basketball since the 1983-84 season, the 24-2 EMCC Lady Lions secured the No. 1 seed in next week's (March 3-6) NJCAA Region 23 Basketball Tournament in Clinton. They will take on seventh-seeded Northwest Mississippi in Wednesday's opening-round women's tournament action. Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. at A.E. Wood Coliseum on the Mississippi College campus. The winner will move on to meet the Itawamba-Mississippi Gulf Coast winner at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

The 16-8 and fourth-seeded EMCC Lions will begin regional play on Tuesday with a 5 p.m. quarterfinal-round contest against fifth-seeded Hinds. The winner will advance to take on the winner between MACJC champion Pearl River and Southern-Shreveport during Thursday's semifinals at 3 p.m.

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