MESA, Ariz. – A short-handed East Mississippi Community College men's basketball squad gave a valiant second-half effort against host Mesa Community College only to have a gutsy, comeback attempt fall just short Sunday evening. In the end, the visiting Lions dropped a controversial 84-81 decision in the third-place game of the fourth annual Fiesta Bowl Junior College Shootout held at Theo Heap Gym on the Mesa CC campus.
Despite the host Thunderbirds shooting twice as many free throws (26-13) as EMCC in the opening half of play, the Lions trailed by only six points (37-31) at the halftime break. However, a hot-shooting Mesa club opened the second half with a 10-2 run to jump out to a 47-33 advantage.
As the Lions were chipping away at Mesa's double-digit lead, the contest took an unfortunate turn with a minor skirmish at the 15:15 mark. After the slight altercation between teams was quickly resolved, the game officials ruled that multiple EMCC players left the bench during the encounter. As a result, seven Lion players were ejected from the contest and the visitors were forced to compete the remaining 15 minutes with only six players.
Even despite their shortage of players, a courageous EMCC contingent used a 9-1 run to trim a 10-point Mesa lead to a basket (71-69) with 2:50 remaining in regulation. The Thunderbirds responded with a guarded made 3-pointer by Anthony Hatfield and a subsequent dunk from Christian Griggs-Williams to lengthen the margin to seven points at 76-69.
From there, the under-manned Lions managed to cut the deficit to four points on four different occasions over the final minute of play. But, EMCC just didn't have enough manpower left at the end as Trey Brown and Mack Foster both fouled out during the game's final seconds. With only four EMCC players available for action to conclude the contest, the Lions fought to the bitter end as Jacolby Mobley's 3-pointer at the game-ending buzzer made it a three-point final outcome.
Mobley, selected the MACJC Men's Basketball Player of the Week prior to the Christmas holiday, pumped in 18 of his career-high 27 points in the second half against Mesa. The former Starkville High School standout hit 4-of-12 shots from beyond the three-point arc.
Also coming up big for the Lions in their second-half comeback attempt, sophomore guard A.J. Wade tallied 13 of his career-best 17 points after the break. The Northeast Lauderdale product was 5-of-11 from the field and 6-of-8 from the line.
Though he wasn't able to complete the third-place contest due to his second-half ejection, EMCC's Jarekious Bradley was named to the Fiesta Bowl Junior College Shootout All-Tournament Team. The Midland College transfer scored 21 points in the Lions' 73-59 win over 18th-ranked Central Arizona College on Friday and added 18 points against eventual tourney champion Salt Lake (UT) Community College.
Improving to 11-3 on the year, Mesa had four players score in double figures. Shyheim McClelland led the way with 18 points, followed by Griggs-Williams and Tylor Wimbish with 16 points apiece for the winners.
Along with having the obvious advantage in manpower numbers down the stretch, the home-standing Thunderbirds made six more free throws (35-of-45) than the Lions attempted (21-of-29 FTs) on the night. Mesa also benefitted from 7-of-10 three-point shooting in the contest. EMCC, now 6-4 for the season after going 1-2 in the Fiesta Bowl tournament, was also whistled for nine more personal fouls (32-23) than Mesa for the game.
In Sunday night's championship game, Salt Lake CC claimed a 57-48 victory over San Bernardino Valley (CA) College to earn its second Fiesta Bowl Shootout team title in three years.
The East Mississippi basketball teams return to the hardwood on Tuesday, Jan. 8 by playing host to rival East Central Community College. A 5:30 p.m. women's game will be followed by a 7:30 p.m. men's contest at EMCC's Keyes T. Currie Coliseum on the Scooba campus.