Meridian Star


March 8, 2014

Last-second three ends Lions’ season

MERIDIAN — CLINTON – It just wasn’t meant to be for East Mississippi.

Johnny Zuppardo’s game-winning 3-pointer in overtime as time expired pushed Jones County Junior College past East Mississippi Community College, 73-72, and into the finals of the NJCAA Region 23 tournament at A.E. Woods Coliseum on the campus of Mississippi College.

Yet Zuppardo’s 3-pointer didn’t come without controversy.

Following a missed free throw by East Mississippi’s Avery Woodson, Jones County hauled in the rebound and immediately signaled timeout with 2.1 seconds remaining.

The Bobcats (24-5) advanced the ball to half court and called another timeout with 0.4 seconds left.

After both timeouts, the referees added additional time back on the clock.

With 1-second remaining, Zuppardo received the inbound pass, dribbled once to his right, and heaved a shot from the right wing that banged off the backboard and through the net.

“The shot was a crazy shot,” said Zuppardo, who finished with 21 points and three 3-pointers. “I took one dribble, it went off the backboard, and I just give all the honor to Jesus Christ.”

The basket came with much questioning from East Mississippi’s side and coach Mark White.

“There is no explanation,” White said in reference to the explanation he was given after the game. “I’ve always said the best job in America is being an official. They can get their money and they are going to go right down the road and eat. Do you think they care that our kids are in (the locker room) crying their heads off over that? Of course not.

“There’s no accountability.”

The loss eliminates East Mississippi (20-7) from the tournament and prevents the Lions from playing for their fifth straight NJCAA Region 23 championship.

“It’s a part of life,” said EMCC guard Avery Woodson, who scored 18 points.

“Sometimes you may not understand why things happen, but you have to look at it as a learning experience and grow from it.”

Despite the controversial finish in overtime, the Lions had their opportunities to win in regulation.

Possessing the ball and a four-point lead with roughly one minute remaining, the Lions surrendered the advantage.

Two consecutive steals by Jones County and easy lay ups on the other end tied the game 20 seconds later.

“I’ve told the players over and over,” White said. “When you get in trouble, don’t try to dribble the ball. Pick it up. We’re out there dribbling the ball with our back to the basket. They steal it from us and make a layup.”

The two teams played a back-and-forth first half, which included five lead changes and 10 ties.  EMCC held a 42-38 advantage heading to the locker room, its largest lead of the half.

Jones County’s Leroy Fludd began the second half scoring the first six points for the Bobcats to bring his squad to within one, 45-44 with 16:00 remaining.

Two minutes later, Thaddeus Hall threw down a thunderous breakaway dunk to put Jones County ahead, 46-45.

But Antonio Finley answered with two consecutive 3’s to put EMCC back in front, 51-46.

Hall lifted Jones County ahead, 55-54, with a pair of free throws with 11:20 remaining.

From there, the Lions clamped down defensively, limiting Jones County to just two points over the next seven minutes of play.

“I was real pleased that our guys showed some poise,” Jones County coach Jay Ladner said. “Give East Mississippi credit. They are well coached. They are a real good and hard to score against. They were well prepared and took us out of a lot things that we were trying to do.”

Leo Garrett’s 3-pointer, along with missed free throws from East Mississippi down the stretch, allowed Jones County to tie the game in regulation.

For EMCC, Jacolby Mobley finished with 22 points and Devonta Pollard chipped in 14. Hall scored 14 points for Jones County.

“It was a great game,” Zuppardo said. “Both teams competed extremely hard and it was truly beautiful to watch everybody compete.”

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