By Jamie Wachter / Sports Editor
The Meridian Star
For the final 10 minutes Saturday, the East Mississippi Community College Lions looked just like coach Mark White wanted.
After visiting Mississippi Delta closed within two with 10:02 left at Keyes T. Currie Coliseum, the Lions tightened up defensively and pulled away for an 81-62 MACJC North Division game, the team’s 21st straight home win against division foes.
“Since I’ve been here for six years, people have known that we’re going to play tough, hard-nosed, in your face man-to-man defense,” White said. “But this bunch, we’ve seen them do it. We have the ability to do it, we’ve proved that we have the ability to do it, we hold the top 20 team in Arizona to their lowest point total of the year; we showed it in those final 10 minutes that when we lock in defensively, that we can be as good as any bunch we’ve ever had, defensively.”
The three-time defending NJCAA Region 23 champions looked the part during that closing stretch against the Trojans. After Delta’s Marquarius Boddie hit a 3-pointer that closed an 18-7 run to make it 59-57, EMCC quickly regained control. Justin Kinsey hit a pair of free throws to start a 10-0 run that featured a lot of Jarekious Bradley and Micah Walker. Bradley, who paced the Lions with 20 points, scored twice off offensive rebounds to stretch the lead back to 66-57 and then Walker, who had just one point through the game’s first 34 minutes drilled a 3-pointer at the 5:32 mark that pushed the lead back to double digits, where it remained the rest of the way.
“It’s funny that when you start to do it with your defense and energy that siddenly your offense picks up,” White said. “Micah goes and hits three 3s there, you know.”
It certainly did for Walker. Following a Bradley, who also had 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double on the year, basket that put EMCC up 71-58 just inside the five-minute mark, the 6-foot-5 sophomore quickly pumped in eight more points with a pair of free throws and consecutive 3-pointers — the second extending the lead to 20 for the first time at 79-59 with 2:17 left — as he finished with 12.
That scoring ability is what has White, who has turned the Lions program around in his six seasons at the helm, excited about this team, which is now 10-4 and 3-0 in the North. Jacolby Mobley added 13 points and Earnest Hunter finished with 12 points and nine rebounds as four Lions posted double figures and 10 scored.
“This is the best offensive team that we’ve ever had,” White added. “We’ve got guys that can go score and make shots and we’ve got a good mix and guys accepting of their roles. We’ve got five guys on this team that are capable of getting 20 on you easy, because they have. And some of them can get 30. It’s just getting them to buy in on the defensive end and the toughness.”
Still, he is waiting for the defense to show up consistently, like it did in that final 10 minutes. Over that span, Delta turned the ball over six times, missed nine straight shots until Johnny Rucker scored on a layup in the closing seconds, and scored only from the free throw line until that Rucker bucket. Even there, Delta struggled as the Trojans made only 3 of 10 during that stretch and 15 of 31 total. Anthony McDonald and Boddie paced Delta with 11 each, while James Evans finished with eight points and nine rebounds.
“That’s our challenge is to get them to not only do it, but to do it consistently,” White said. “You’re always going to have lapses, but to do it consistently because people have always hated to play against us. But we have to get to where we can be consistently better in our man-to-man.
“That’s where teams, if there is a way to strike fear, it’s on the defensive end. It’s about defense and toughness.”
EMCC women 55
Mississippi Delta 52
Savannah Kimmons posted a career-best 18 points and her inside presence helped the Lions rally in the second half to their first MACJC North Division win of the season.
Kimmons, a 6-foot freshman, hit 9 of 12 shots and kept EMCC close in the first half with 10 points. Even with that big start from the post, the Lions still trailed visiting Delta 25-24 at the break. However, with her presence inside drawing attention, EMCC started getting, and making, open looks in the second half.
“When you have a big game, your teammates feed of of it,” EMCC coach Sharon Thompson said. “If she starts knocking shots down, it picks your teammates up and soon they start knocking shots down.”
After hitting just one 3-pointer in the first half, the Lions hit two in a row within a minute as Wilma Davis and Charmane Tims each connected to tie the game. Following Tims’ 3 that knotted the game at 30 with 17:58 left, the Lions never trailed. EMCC, which took the lead for good on a Kimmons putback at the 15;36 mark, later had three straight 3s from Leah Isabelle, Davis and Takera Mitchell to help keep Delta at arm’s length. The final of those pushed the lead to 47-40 with 6:29 remaining, the largest lead of the game.
“Our big girl played tough today and when she does that, it opens the outside game up,” Thompson said. “If she doesn’t have a good game, they are able to crowd her some more.”
Davis added 10 points for the Lions, who improved to 3-11 and 1-3. Delta was led by Suzzette Suggs’ 12.