BOONEVILLE — The Northeast Mississippi Community College men’s basketball team broke out of its recent slump from beyond the arc in a big way to keep its season moving forward.
The Tigers were a season-best 52.9 percent from three-point range during a 98-82 victory over Delgado (La.) Community College on Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 Tournament.
With the victory Northeast advanced to play No. 3 seed Hinds on Thursday night at Mississippi College in the semifinals. The Northeast/Hinds matchup ended past deadline so game information can be found online in the E-Edition and in Saturday’s Daily Corinthian print edition.
Northeast had made less than 30 percent of its treys in five of the last six games over the previous month. However, the Tigers were 9 of 17 as an offensive unit with seven of those long shots coming from Kylan Blackmon and Ken Lewis.
Blackmon set a career-high with 34 points on 11 of 18 shooting overall. It was the most points scored by a Northeast standout in a playoff game since Shaq Buchanan, who now plays for the Memphis Hustle in the National Basketball Association (NBA) G League, had 34 points himself in the 2017 NJCAA Region 23 championship contest.
“I was just seeing the rim get bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Blackmon. “Our main focus was defense. It starts in practice and it rolls over to warm-ups. Everybody was locked in and tuned in.”
Zeke Cook posted a new career-best as well with 22 points plus 10 rebounds for his second double-double in a row. Lewis snapped a stretch of four straight games outside of double-digits with 13 points.
It is the first time that Northeast has boasted two players with 20-plus points in the same matchup since DeAnthony Tipler and Isaac Chatman scored 23 and 20 points, respectively, in a win versus Hinds Community College in the semifinals of the 2020 Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) Tournament.
“I thought we were aggressive all night,” Tigers head coach Cord Wright said. “I felt like everybody was involved doing something to make a winning play and that’s what we keep emphasizing to the guys.”
The triumph also signaled the last contest inside Bonner Arnold Coliseum this year. Northeast went undefeated at home for the second consecutive campaign and now holds a 22-game winning streak inside its historic venue.
“It’s just impressive. Winning in this league is tough,” said Wright. “We’ve obviously had good players, but our fans make a huge difference and they know that. Tonight was a big deal to have them in here.”
Both teams exchanged the lead six times in the early stages of the matchup, but the Dolphins (9-7) never led by more than one possession. The Tigers took the lead for good with 7:24 remaining in the opening half on a driving lay-in by Jalin Rice.
Blackmon went on a personal 8-0 run himself over the course of two minutes to expand Northeast’s advantage to 47-37 at halftime. He drained a pair of shots from long distance during that span.
The Tigers (14-3) built their lead to as much as 17 points at 74-57 with 8:48 to go following two free throws by Cole McGrath. But Delgado cut its deficit to 80-73 at the 5:01 mark after a three-pointer from Tylor Harris.
Northeast recorded 16 of the next 20 points, including back-to-back makes from behind the arc by Blackmon and Lewis, to put the contest out of reach and capture its first meeting with Delgado in 21 years.
The Tigers were plus-13 on the glass and outscored the Dolphins in the paint by a 50-24 margin. Northeast had 21 assists plus 19 second chance points off 15 offensive rebounds.