By Tony Tsoukalas / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
After claiming its fourth-straight Region 23 Tournament Championship, the East Mississippi Community College basketball team finds itself in familiar territory, as the No. 20 seed Lions gear up to play No. 13 seed Howard College (Texas) today at 2 p.m. form the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kan.
The Lions experience is something no other team can claim. EMCC is the only team in the NJCAA Tournament with four-straight appearances to Hutchinson.
That familiarity is something head coach Mark White hopes will prepare his team as they look to take on a 28-5 Howard College team out of the always competitive Western Junior College Athletic Conference.
“We have guys from last year’s team who have been there before,” White said. “It helps because they know what it is like, and they know what to expect from it. They are used to playing in this kind of environment.”
That high-pressure environment is something the Lions will have to strive on, as the format of the NJCAA has changed this year, now featuring a 24-team, single elimination bracket.
Due to the changes in the tournament, teams were not given their typical practice time on the Hutchinson Sports Arena court prior to the game. In order to replicate the big-game atmosphere, the Lions practiced at Humphrey Coliseum on the campus of Mississippi State.
“We are fortunate that the people at Mississippi State allowed us to prepare and practice here,” White said. “Normally we would get to practice over there, but with the addition of more teams, we weren’t going to be able to do that.”
Former Northeast Lauderdale star and EMCC sophomore AJ Wade said playing at MSU will help the team, but in order to be successful in the NJCAA’s, the Lion’s must look within.
“We are just getting prepared for the game,” EMCC sophomore AJ Wade said. “We just got to get our mindset ready to go. It’s going to be a good game. It’s going to come down to our toughness, because that’s a tough team we are going to have to play.”
While stopping Howard College will be no easy task, the Lions appear to have momentum on their side. Winners of nine of their last 10 games, EMCC hopes to be hitting its stride at the right time. Wade said he feels his team is playing their best basketball and is playing with an extra sense of desire as well.
“I feel that we have the momentum, because we have been on a winning streak,” Wade said. “I feel like we are winning because we know what it takes to win.”
The winner of the EMCC vs. Howard College game will advance to play No. 4 seeded Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the second round of the NJCAA Tournament.
“I’m just going to leave it all out on the floor,” Wade said. “I’m going out there and telling myself to leave it all out on the floor and go out there and play my hardest every play.”