The Northeast Mississippi Community College men’s basketball team is returning to its home-away-from-home after a 15-year hiatus.
The Tigers qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I National Tournament with a 75-73 victory over Northwest Mississippi Community College in the regional semifinal round on Friday, March 4 at A.E. Wood Coliseum.
“It’s obviously a very, very exciting feeling,” said Northeast head coach Cord Wright. “I’m super proud of my kids and how they played through adversity. We’re fired up about it.”
The Tigers meet another Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division rival in East Mississippi Community College for the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament title on Saturday, March 5. Tipoff is slated for 8 p.m. on the campus of Mississippi College.
Northeast clinched its eighth trip to Hutchinson, Kan., in program history. The Tigers will journey to the historic Sports Arena as either the region champion or as the zone qualifier for NJCAA District 15.
“This was the dream from the beginning,” Northeast sophomore Desmin Harris said. “We just continue to fight and fight. I can’t even explain it. All the hard work has paid off for us.”
Northeast pulled ahead late in the first half after a very competitive. The two squads exchanged the lead three times and found themselves in a tie on two other occasions during the initial 14 minutes of the matchup.
Leroy Buchanan gave the Tigers their inaugural lead at 6-5 at the 16:30 mark of the opening period on a three-pointer. The Rangers responded quickly with an 8-0 run that was capped with an Isaiah Austin basket.
Northwest maintained its advantage for the next seven-plus minutes before Northeast took a lead that it would cling onto for the duration of the bout on a pair of free throws by Wesley Harris with 6:26remaining before the break.
The Tigers were impressive on the defensive side of the court once again. They contained the Rangers to only two field goals in the last eight minutes of the half and slowly began to build their advantage.
Buchanan went on a personal streak of seven consecutive points to push Northeast ahead 27-19. The Tigers then accumulated 11 of the final 13 points in the period to enter the locker room with a 39-24 lead.
Tray Lawson accounted for three straight buckets following the intermission for Northeast as it continued to widen its edge. A Kendall Stafford trey moments later lifted the Tigers ahead by their largest margin of the contest at 48-29.
Northwest got its deficit back under figures with 11:09 to play on an offensive rebound and putback from Seth LeDay. But Buchanan increased Northeast’s advantage to 54-41 with two straight makes, including a beautiful alley-oop slam dunk off a nice Kendarius Smith lob pass.
Things still got interesting in the waning seconds after a Keelin Jackson steal then layup brought the Rangers within one possession of the Tigers’ lead. However, Northeast made just enough attempts from the charity stripe to secure the huge triumph.
“At this point, the old saying of survive and advance is really what it’s about,” said Wright. “It wasn’t a perfect ending, but that’s part of it. I’m just proud that our guys were able to hang in there and get this one.”
Buchanan paced the Tigers with 29 points, which was only one away from tying his career-high. He did set new personal bests with 11 made field goals and a 61.1 percent ledger from the floor.
“My confidence was high and I was looking to shoot,” Buchanan said. “We’ve been coming together all year so we knew we were going to come through it. We were ready.”
Wesley Harris barely missed his second double-double in as many nights for Northeast (17-9) with 17 points and eight rebounds. Ten of his points came at the free throw line.
Lawson and Smith came close to reaching double figures as well with seven points apiece. Raheem Sorrell also contributed six points in the post to the Tigers’ winning effort.
Northeast held Northwest (17-9) to a 36.2 field goal percentage, which was its second lowest total of the entire season. The Rangers were confined to a 19-percent clip from beyond the arc as well.
Sports Information Director
Northeast Mississippi Community College