By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
CLINTON – Xavier Ruth has struggled to crack Itawamba’s talented lineup all season, but the former Shannon star never gave up hope.
The sophomore guard, who transferred to Fulton from Delta State, came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points Wednesday to lead the Indians to a 73-65 upset of No. 25-ranked Pearl River in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament semifinals at Mississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum.
“It’s been frustrating; I’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” said Ruth, who came in averaging four points per game. “I was hungry tonight. I wanted to help my team get to that championship game.”
ICC (20-9) moved into today’s 8 p.m. title game against East Mississippi, which beat Hinds 81-74 in overtime. The winner advances to the national tournmament in Hutchinson, Kan.
This is the third time in four seasons the Indians have played in the region championship game. The Indians won and advanced to the nationals in 2007 and ’08. ICC also played in Hutchinson in 2002.
ICC coach Marty Cooper was excited about Ruth’s performance.
“I’m happy for him,” he said. “We had some people get in foul trouble early and he and some others stepped up.”
ICC bench scored 40 points.
Ruth scored 11 of his points in the first half to help the Indians take a 36-33 halftime lead. Pearl River (24-5) rebounded to open the second half with a 7-0 run to take a 40-36 lead. ICC responded with a 9-0 spurt to go ahead for keeps.
ICC used another 9-0 run, powered by a Ruth dunk and 3-pointer, to build a 62-48 edge.
“Xavier hasn’t given up, even though he hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time,” Cooper said. “He was just slow to adjust to our system.”
The stunned Wildcats, who downed the Indians 79-71 in last week’s state tournament, closed the gap to 68-65 in the final minute.
Todd Nelson connected on three 3-pointers and scored 15 points for ICC while Vincenzo Nelson added 11. Todd Nelson also added a team-high nine rebounds.
Phillip Crawford paced Pearl River with 17 points.
(W) Co-Lin 66, ICC 51
Destini Shannon’s jumper from the top of the key with 10:15 remaining cut Co-Lin’s lead to 45-41 in Lady Indians’ semifinal game. ICC (19-10) would get no closer.
Co-Lin (27-1), ranked No. 3 in the nation, flexed its defensive muscle and held ICC to just two field goals the rest of the way to advance to the title game with a 15-point victory.
“Credit Co-Lin, nobody’s figured out how to beat them but one,” ICC coach Nanci Gray said. “Co-Lin got that second burst and we weren’t able to get anything going offensively.”
Co-Lin will play Baton Rouge at 6 p.m. today in the championship. The winner advances to the NJCAA national tournament in Salina, Kan.
Ebony Williams, who scored 14 points, was the lone Lady Indians player in double figures. Rachel Vigers scored 16 points and Brandi Simmons posted a double-double (14 points and 12 rebounds) for the winners.