SCOOBA — East Mississippi Community College men’s basketball coach Billy Begley has told freshman Donte Powers to prepare for a big role this season.
If Powers had any doubts, he had former Starkville High School teammates Darrious Agnew and Markedric Bell telling him that big things were on the horizon.
“Getting in the game so early tonight was huge,” Powers said. “It meant a lot to me. My job is to bring energy. Coach told me to go out and play hard, bring some toughness. I tried to do that.”
As the first substitute off the bench, Powers provided a spark that triggered a 14-2 run. That early burst proved critical as EMCC withstood a furious rally to edge Meridian C.C. 74-69 Monday night before a packed house at Currie Coliseum.
“Meridian outplayed us in every phase of the game in the second half,” Begley said. “We had a 17-point lead and should have blown the game open. That being said, we won the game because we are a year older, a year wiser. We would not have won this game a year ago.”
After building a 39-24 halftime lead, EMCC (2-0) watched MCC (1-1) tied the game with a 12-0 run. The Eagles later took a 3-point lead. From there, EMCC made a series of veteran plays to pull it out.
On a four-possession stretch, Agnew had a slam dunk, a blocked shot, a defensive five-second call, and a 3-pointer from the top of the key that broke the game’s final tie.
“We lost our defensive identity there in the second half,” Agnew said. “Things came pretty easy early and we let our guard down. It’s still early in the season and we are getting some things right. We know our potential.”
On this team, any player could be the standout on any night.
Bell had a dominating eight-minute stretch in the first half as EMCC built a lead. His run included two dunks that energized a large student section. Agnew was dominant in the final 10 minutes. Former New Hope High School standout Terryonte Thomas hit a key basket with the shot clock expiring for a five-point lead in the final minute.
Dewayne Cox had two critical offensive rebounds as EMCC battled to hold the lead the final 3 minutes, 27 seconds.
“That’s the best thing going for this team,” Begley said. “They know each other and most of them have played together for quite some time. We can go down the stretch of a game and any player can step up for us.
“We talk all the time about the sophomores, but there were some great minutes given to us by (Powers) and (Nebraska native Dawson Graham.”
Some of the great chemistry on the team comes from Agnew and Bell, who played together on some elite squads at Starkville.
“We always know where each other is at,” Bell said. “It’s like when something does break down on the offensive end, we still have each other. If one of us is moving towards the basket, the other of us is going to find him. That can be said for the whole team. However, for (Agnew and Bell), we have been doing this for a while.”
Agnew had 12 points (all in the second half), while Thomas and Graham had 11. Bell and Robert Davis Jr. had 10. Thomas had six rebounds, while Bell had five. Agnew had three assists.
Alvarez Powell had 19 points to lead MCC, while Alex Oguinn had 16.
EMCC will play Thursday at East Central C.C. in Decatur before leaving Friday morning for Vincennes, Indiana, for two games in the Sodexo Classic. In Indiana, EMCC will face No. 19 John A. Logan College on Friday and No. 6 Vincennes University on Saturday.
“This is a huge week for our team,” Agnew said. “Four games in six days is a lot on us. Plus, we are playing two nationally-ranked teams. We are going to learn a lot about our team.”
In the opener, the MCC women erased a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to knock off EMCC 76-69 in overtime.
For EMCC (1-1), Tye Metcalfe had 26 points, while Maddie Riley had her second double-double on the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
n Elsewhere Monday, the No. 6 Shelton State C.C. women’s basketball team edged Itawamba C.C. 86-80 in overtime. Shaniyah Buford led ICC (1-1) with 33 points. Former Columbus High standout Zaria Jenkins had 16, and former Starkville High standout Tabreea Gandy had 10.
The No. 21 Shelton State C.C. men won the nightcap 71-67. Cartisco Brown had 14 points and Ma’Darius Hobson had 12 for ICC (1-1).
Follow Dispatch sports writer Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott
Scott was sports editor for The Dispatch.