EMCC Lions earn second MACCC title in 4 years
POPLARVILLE — East Mississippi Community College’s fourth-seeded Lions collected their second men’s basketball conference tournament championship in four years by earning a hard-fought 60-58 victory over nationally 23rd-ranked and No. 2 seed Northeast Mississippi during Thursday’s title game of the MACCC Basketball Tournament played this week at the Marvin R. White Coliseum on the Pearl River Community College campus.
EMCC’s three-day tournament run last week at PRCC with earlier wins over Northwest Mississippi (69-55) and top-seeded and tournament host Pearl River (57-51) matches the Lions’ feat of the 2018-19 season when they captured the school’s first men’s basketball conference crown since the early 1930s. East Mississippi has now collectively won three consecutive MACCC tournament championships with the men’s titles this year and in 2019 coupled with the women’s championship run in 2020 on the Scooba campus.
The Lions battled Northeast Mississippi for the entire 40 minutes during a competitive championship classic. The Tigers grabbed a 21-13 lead by the 7:46 mark with an 8-0 run. EMCC’s all-conference forward Jakorie Smith was also saddled with a pair of early fouls.
After trailing by seven points (24-17), the Lions received the first of four boosts on the night from all-conference candidate Blake Butler. The Kentucky native drilled a three-pointer and followed with a basket at the rim. Nick Walker’s back-to-back buckets, including a put-back slam, tied things at 26-26 with 2:22 left in the half.
Following the break with the score still knotted (30-30), Danny Washington’s made trey to open the second half gave the Lions a lead they would not relinquish again the rest of the game.
Six straight free throws from Smith and two more by Brandon Deravine put the Lions on top by seven points.
That’s when Butler made a statement with a highlight-worthy thunderous slam down the center of the lane that extended EMCC’s lead to 43-34 with 11:22 remaining in the title tilt. The Tigers responded by scoring the next five points to make it a four-point contest midway through the half.
Three minutes later, Butler came up big again by nailing his third trey of the game to put the Lions back up by seven points with 6:34 left.
Northeast answered with back-to-back baskets during a critical stretch of the game. The Tigers had a chance to cut the three-point deficit (48-45) even more, but they couldn’t convert on a layup attempt at the rim and missed on the front end of a one-and-one opportunity.
That set the stage for yet another big-time moment by Butler, as the 6-foot-5 guard completed a four-point play after connecting on his fourth triple of the game to extend EMCC’s lead to 53-45 with four minutes remaining.
Northeast again valiantly fought back to score six unanswered points to make it a two-point game with three minutes left.
With a chance for Northeast to tie the game after an EMCC turnover, Smith came up big defensively at the rim for the Lions with a blocked shot and defensive rebound that Walker converted into two made free throws on the other end with 45.4 seconds left.
The Tigers were then denied one final opportunity to even the score or possibly pull out the win down the stretch.