The Northeast Mississippi Community College women’s basketball team continues to reset its recent history as it approaches the midway point of conference play.
The Lady Tigers snapped a 12-game losing streak against archrival Itawamba Community College with a thrilling 65-62 road victory on Monday, January 23. It was also the first-ever triumph for Northeast inside the Lady Indians’ Davis Event Center.
“I think it was big for our players and our program to accomplish this win,” said Lady Tigers head coach Brenda Mayes. “It’s hard to win on the road, but I feel like this will add some spontaneity to our group.
“I thought that they played well as a team. As a whole that was probably our best defensive effort. We were big in the post and were able to get it inside. That was a boost for us.”
The opening half featured a struggle for control. Neither squad went ahead by more than four points and there were six lead changes and seven instances in which the score was tied.
Northeast held the defending National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 champions scoreless for the initial three minutes and 26 seconds of the matchup. But Itawamba bounced back to tie the contest at 12-12 by the end of the first.
The two foes essentially continued to trade baskets throughout the second. The Lady Tigers got the last bucket of the period, though, on a Shelby Wilbanks jumper to take a 24-22 advantage at the intermission.
Northeast began to expand its lead right out of the locker room by accounting for six straight points. Aundrea Adams had two big buckets, including an offensive rebound and put back that pushed the Lady Tigers ahead 30-22.
Adams increased Northeast’s advantage to double-digits for the first time with 7:30 remaining in the third quarter on an old-fashioned three-point play that was started by a beautiful pass from LaKeiya Lane.
Lane stayed involved in the action and drained a three-pointer from in front of the visiting bench just before the horn sounded to keep the Lady Tigers (9-7, 4-1) in front by a 50-41 margin.
Wilbanks drilled back-to-back field goals to put Northeast up 56-44 at the 7:15 mark of the final stanza. However, the Lady Indians used a 10-0 run to cut their deficit to just one possession and setup a wild finish.
Itawamba (8-6, 3-1) pieced together a separate spurt of eight unanswered points to actually retake the lead at 62-61 with less than 20 seconds to go. But the Lady Tigers kept their composure and immediately responded.
Timaya Stewart went from coast-to-coast and was fouled while heading for the goal. She calmly made both attempts from the charity stripe to put Northeast ahead once again 63-62.
The drama did not end there. The Lady Indians missed a jumper on their ensuing trip down the floor and it landed out of bounds without being touched to give the Lady Tigers the ball.
Stewart received the inbounds pass and was promptly fouled with 3.7 seconds showing on the scoreboard. She composedly knocked down both free throws to widen Northeast’s advantage to three points.
“I was really just thinking to shoot them how you shoot in practice, take my time and hold my follow through,” Stewart said. “It was a relief because it kept us in the game. I’m glad I did what I had to do.”
Itawamba called timeout and by rule advanced the ball past the midcourt stripe. Jabria Pounds got a good look at a three-pointer, but her shot went in-and-out of the hoop and Adams grabbed the rebound as the clock expired to secure the victory.
Wilbanks was superb for the Lady Tigers. She compiled a game-high 22 points after combining to score 22 points in both of Northeast’s meetings with the Lady Indians during her freshman season.
“I came into this game thinking about the two losses from last year,” said Wilbanks. “I tried to tell myself to keep a level head, stay calm and let the game come to me. To pull it through really tells us that we can do this.”
Adams posted 16 points, including a perfect six-of-six ledger on free throws, and a game-best 12 rebounds. She has now recorded a double-double in four out of the last five contests for the Lady Tigers.
The tandem of Lane and Stewart both neared triple-double performances. Stewart tallied 13 points, seven boards and seven assists while Lane accumulated 11 points, nine rebounds and six dimes.
(M) Itawamba 88, Northeast 85
The Tigers shot a blistering 54.1-percent overall and 48-percent from long distance, which were both their second highest marks of the entire campaign, but lost a lead late after the Indians went 33-of-42 at the free throw line.
“Credit Itawamba for fighting for the whole game,” Northeast headman Cord Wright said. “We’ve got to be tough enough to finish and I expect that from our guys. We’ve got to move on to the next one.”
Similar to the preceding ladies matchup, there were five lead changes and four other occasions in which the two adversaries were in a stalemate during the initial nine minutes of the first half.
The Tigers used a 10-0 run to leap ahead 21-14 with 9:03 to go prior to the break. Conner McKay and Darius Williams both connected on shots from beyond the arc to start that particular spurt.
Another 7-0 stretch allowed Northeast to enlarge its advantage to double-figures. An old-fashioned three-point play by Shunn Buchanan plus a trey from Kendarius Smith made the score 28-17 in favor of the Tigers.
Williams gave Northeast (10-6, 2-3) what turned out to be its largest lead of the entire evening at 40-24 with 1:18 left before halftime on a long distance make that was assisted by Smith.
However, the Indians (7-7, 3-1) accounted for the final eight points of the period in a span of just over one minute to slash the Tigers’ advantage to 40-32 at the halftime buzzer.
Itawamba got within five points of Northeast early in the second. But the Tigers built their lead back to double-digits at the 16:41 mark when Leroy Buchanan went from one end of the court to the other for a layup.
Northeast held as large as a nine-point advantage with 6:45 remaining following a Zach Hudson basket. The Tigers got cold from that instance, though, and notched only eight points in the last five minutes of the matchup.
Leroy Buchanan was solid once again for Northeast with a game-best 22 points. He added six assists, four rebounds, two blocks and one steal in what was another stellar performance.
It was the eighth 20-plus point effort of the campaign for Buchanan. He has now scored in double-figures in 17 consecutive contests dating back to the 2016 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division I National Tournament.
“I knew I had to come out aggressive,” said Buchanan. “We started off strong, but in the second half we got tired and just broke down. It’s time for everyone to lock in, the five on the floor and the guys on the bench.”
Williams produced 16 points and matched a season-high with a 66.7 three-point percentage. Shunn Buchanan chipped in 14 points as well for the Tigers, who wrapped up a lengthy stretch of eight games out of the previous 10 on the road.
A trio of Northeast standouts barely missed double-digits. Kendall Stafford netted nine points for the Tigers while post players Bryce Smith and Hudson totaled eight points apiece.
CUTLINE – Timaya Stewart shoots a three-pointer during Northeast Mississippi Community College’s matchup against East Mississippi Community College earlier this month. Stewart sank four key free throws with less than 15 seconds remaining to lift the Lady Tigers to a 65-62 victory at Itawamba Community College on Monday, January 23. (PHOTO: Michael H. Miller/Northeast Public Information)