Tigers win latest state title

Northeast Mississippi Community College athletes Kylan Blackmon (1) and Ken Lewis (2) give coach Cord Wright a high-five after the Tigers’ home win over Itawamba Community College on Feb. 4. Northeast won the co-Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference championship with an 83-72 win over Coahoma Community College on Saturday.

BOONEVILLE — The most unusual regular season in the tradition-rich history of the Northeast Mississippi Community College men’s basketball program has ended with championship gold.

The Tigers captured the 2021 Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference (MACCC) North Division title with an 83-72 victory over Coahoma Community College on Saturday, March 27 inside Bonner Arnold Coliseum.

Northeast was also crowned as the co-MACCC champions since there is no conference tournament this year. The Tigers share that honor with South Division winner Pearl River Community College.

It is the seventh state title in school history and the first since the 1999-2000 campaign. It is also the 18th divisional championship for Northeast, which is the most of any program in the north half of the MACCC.

The Tigers repeat as division champions for the first time since 1994-95. That was the back end of an unprecedented six consecutive north crowns for Northeast under the direction of Hall of Fame coaches Harvey Childers and Mike Lewis.

The current edition of the Tigers overcame multiple obstacles and oddities on its way to making history, including two separate two week layoffs due to various reasons. Northeast has played only 15 games prior to the postseason compared to 23 during a normal year.

“It feels good,” said a soaked Tigers head coach Cord Wright after a Powerade shower in the locker room. “What I appreciate about this group here is they’ve stayed the course and bought in to what we’re trying to do. Our guys battled. Nothing was easy. They’ve been strong all year.”

Coahoma certainly gave Northeast, which is receiving votes in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) rankings, a run for its money during the second meeting of the week and the third matchup of the season overall between these two teams.

The dueling Tigers exchanged leads seven times in the opening half. Coahoma (2-12, 2-12) eventually took a 36-35 advantage into the intermission after a buzzer beating three-pointer by Shadrick Bouldin.

Northeast quickly grabbed the lead after the break with back-to-back buckets by Ladarrius Spears. The Tigers built their advantage to 47-43 at the 14:33 mark following a make by Jalin Rice.

However, the visiting Tigers scored seven unanswered from that point and took a 50-49 lead with 12:35 remaining in the contest following one of four made three pointers by Cortez McCarty.

A pair of free throws by Josh Mitchell 19 seconds later gave Northeast (12-3, 11-2) an advantage that it would not relinquish. But it took another five minutes before the Tigers began to pull away.

An old-fashioned three-point play by Rice with 7:49 to go pushed Northeast ahead by two possessions at 65-60. It started a 14-3 run by the Tigers that was capped with a steal and layup on the other end of the floor by Jacob Tracey.

Rice’s trey with 3:21 left gave Northeast their largest lead of the entire game at 81-64. The Madison Central High School graduate posted career-highs of 22 points and nine assists to top the Tigers.

“This feels too good. We’ve been working towards this,” Rice said. “We work hard enough that we expect to get W’s. I love this team. We’re not even teammates anymore at this point. We’re family.”

Kylan Blackmon was the only other Northeast standout to reach double figures with 13 points. Braxton Pritchard and Spears barely missed that mark with nine and eight points, respectively.

The Tigers were 46.3 percent from the field overall and made 12 shots from beyond the arc. Northeast also committed a season-low five turnovers while outscoring Coahoma’s bench 35-11.

Northeast now turns its attention to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament. The Tigers received an opening round bye and will host Baton Rouge (La.) Community College at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

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