POPLARVILLE – The undefeated Lions of East Mississippi Community College picked up a pair of key basketball victories at this week's PRCC Wildcat Classic hosted by Pearl River Community College at Marvin R. White Coliseum. After knocking off previously unbeaten LSU Eunice by a single point (67-66) on Monday, EMCC came back the following day to claim a convincing 85-40 win over fellow Region 23 foe Baton Rouge Community College on Tuesday.
In Monday's come-from-behind victory over LSUE, the Lions trailed for virtually the entire game and faced 10-point deficits during both halves. After trailing by eight points (13-5) six minutes into the game, EMCC later scored seven unanswered points to take its lone lead (20-18) of the half with eight minutes remaining until halftime. The Bengals responded by outscoring the Lions, 12-4, over the final four minutes to claim a 36-28 halftime advantage.
The second stanza initially consisted of both teams making alternating scoring runs before the contest settled into a barn burner down the stretch. After EMCC opened the half with an 11-3 spurt to knot the score at 39-39, LSU Eunice responded with a 13-3 run of its own to pull back ahead by 10 points (52-42). The Lions promptly answered with eight consecutive points to cut the deficit to two points (52-50) midway through the half.
The Bengals continued to cling to their precarious lead before EMCC tallied seven straight points to take just its second lead of the game. Freshman point guard Danny Washington followed an up-and-under move to the basket with a 3-pointer that put the Lions ahead, 62-60, with three minutes remaining in the contest.
Two minutes later, consecutive field goals by Mamady Djikine and Michael Smith Jr. gave LSUE a short-lived 66-63 lead with 1:12 left in regulation. Following KJ Riley's put-back basket for EMCC, the sophomore swing player then drew an offensive charge with 15.4 ticks remaining to set up Jakorie Smith's game-winning bucket in the waning seconds.
Smith recorded his third double-double of the young season with 17 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. Arecko Gipson Jr. narrowly missed recording his first collegiate double-double by finishing with 17 points and nine boards, while Washington contributed a season-best 13 points off the EMCC bench in the winning effort.
LSU Eunice's Jevon Berry led all scorers with 23 points, followed by Djikine and Smith with 16 and 11 points, respectively.
Conversely, the outcome was never in doubt the following night for East Mississippi against Baton Rouge. Despite a sluggish start by EMCC, successive 3-pointers by substitutes Isaiah Hardy, Romeo Sanders and Riley gave the Lions an early 17-4 advantage. The margin increased to 21 points (27-6) on Gipson's trey at the 8:52 mark and four minutes later to 31 points (39-8) on Riley's three-point play. The Bears did manage to outscore EMCC, 13-7, the remaining five minutes of the opening half, but the Lions still held a sizeable 46-21 halftime lead.
The second half of the EMCC-BRCC contest featured much of the same dominance by the unbeaten Lions. Three consecutive baskets by Smith early in the half on his way to a game-high, 20-point outing pushed the margin back over the 30-point cushion. Gipson's basket midway through the half extended the Lions' lead to 40 points (69-29) en route to their 45-point blowout victory.
Smith's 20 points came on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, including 4-of-5 from beyond the three-point arc. Riley followed with a career-high 15 points on 4-of-6 field goal accuracy, 3-of-4 from long range and 4-of-5 from the line. Gipson finished with 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Baton Rouge's lone double-digit scorer was Trenton Payne with 11 points. The Bears were limited to just 13 made field goals in the contest.
Coach Billy Begley's 5-0 EMCC Lions will compete Thursday and Friday in the NWF Classic hosted by Northwest Florida State College in Niceville. EMCC will first take on the 18th-ranked Raiders on their home floor Thursday at 7:30 p.m. CT. The game will be streamed live on NWF State's YouTube page, YouTube.com/NWFRaiderAthletics. The Lions will then return to Raider Arena the following day to meet fellow unbeaten Gulf Coast State College at 5:30 p.m. on Friday. Both EMCC and GC received votes in this week's NJCAA Division I men's basketball rankings. After playing four games in five days away from home during this week's competitive slate, the Lions continue their challenging pre-conference hoops schedule by playing at No. 20 Shelton State Community College on Monday evening (Nov. 25) in Tuscaloosa.