By David Wheeler
A guaranteed ticket to the NJCAA national tournament is just three wins away this week.
That chance applies equally to the Northeast men and women, and the Itawamba women, as the Region 23 Tournament begins today at Mississippi College in Clinton.
Both the ICC women and Northeast men are well aware of what three wins mean, having won the event just a season ago.
Four games begin the tournament today, all women’s, with Northeast (15-9) playing Southwest (18-9) at 1 p.m., and Itawamba (16-7) playing Copiah-Lincoln (20-4) at 7:30 p.m.
“We got put in a bracket we don’t want to be in, but our only problem Monday is Co- Lin,” Itawamba head coach Nanci Gray said. “Co-Lin has a 6-foot-3 player that makes things happen, and sophomore guards.
“And they’re the only team to beat (No. 8) Jones County. We’ve got to be ready to play every game, and we’ve got to bring a lot more energy.”
Both the Itawamba and Northeast women were one-and-done in last week’s MACJC State Tournament, with Itawamba losing to Southwest 60-52. Jabria Pounds (Nettleton) led ICC in that game with 18 points, and averages 16.1 ppg, while Marlee Hatcher (Pontotoc) averages 15.3 ppg, but only scored four points against Southwest.
Northeast also fell in its first game of the state tournament, losing 78-67 in overtime to Hinds. LaKeiya Lane leads the Lady Tigers in scoring at 17.0 ppg, with Shelby Wilbanks (Walnut) next at 16.4 ppg.
The Northeast Tigers are also defending Region 23 champs, and are coming off a mostly successful state tournament week, winning two games but falling in the championship 77-52 to Jones County.
“We probably ran out of gas, but Jones is a very talented team,” Tigers head coach Cord Wright said. “We played the game right, we held them to 77 points.
“The focus is there, I like the matchup this week, and I like our preparation.”
Men’s play begins Wednesday, with Northeast (19-6) play East Central (14-10) at 3 p.m. This will be the third time Northeast has played East Central, winning the previous two, including last week 86-69.
The Tigers feature five players scoring in double figures, led by Leroy Buchanan at 18.5 ppg.