SCOOBA — Before the second half of Wednesday’s NJCAA Region 23 tournament second-round game, East Mississippi Community College women’s basketball coach Sharon Thompson brought her players back onto the court early to get extra shots up.
The Lions had struggled a bit at the close of the second quarter against Copiah-Lincoln Community College, and though they still led 32-18 at the break, they backed into halftime scuffling on offense.
“We had a spurt there that we were kind of sluggish,” Thompson said. “We were on 32 for a while.”
The extra shootaround time she gave her players paid off. EMCC (11-4) opened the third quarter by scoring nine of the first 13 points, stretching its lead to 19 and advancing to the tournament quarterfinals with a 69-49 win over Co-Lin (5-9) on Wednesday.
Thompson praised her team’s offensive effort throughout the contest, noting that 10 of the Lions’ 11 wins have now come by double digits.
“We’ve been defending all year,” she said. “When we’re scoring the ball, we’re good.”
The Lions hit seven 3-pointers, including two apiece by guards Shakira Wilson and Jenessa Souza. Thompson said the freshman-sophomore duo has been strong for EMCC throughout the season.
“We have a couple kids who are consistently shooting it,” she said.
West Point product Ja’Mia Hollings led the way with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting. The 6-foot-1 sophomore forward had her third-highest scoring output as a Lion and added eight rebounds in the win.
“We executed, and we played together as a team,” Hollings said.
Hollings is averaging just below a double-double for the Lions this season. Thompson said she holds offers from Georgia Southern, Troy and other Division I schools.
“She’s a superb kid,” Thompson said. “We’re going to hate to see her leave our program.”
The Lions played so solidly Wednesday that Thompson had plenty of room for critiques even when her players were succeeding. After Souza took a feed from Wilson in the left corner, passed up a 3-pointer on the wing and tossed the basketball to Hollings at the top of the key, Thompson called her out with a smile and a swing of her arm — even after Hollings drove in and scored.
“I chewed Nessa out,” Thompson said. “She had to shoot that thing. It’s a good swing, we made an extra pass, and she had a wide open shot. Yeah, I wanted her to shoot that. That’s what we have her out there for — to make 3s for us, and that’s what she’s good at.”
The Lions as a whole depended on the 3-ball Wednesday as Souza, Hollings and Amiyah Staples made back-to-back-to-back 3s to open up the second quarter. They took the Lions’ lead from 19-9 to 28-9 in a matter of minutes, and EMCC’s advantage never dipped below 14 for the rest of the contest.
Thompson said the Lions entered the game with hopes of scoring 70 or more points and holding the Wolves below 50. They came up short of the first objective by a single point and achieved the second goal by the exact same margin.
Now, EMCC will tangle with an Itawamba Community College team with which the Lions are plenty familiar. The Lions lost to the Indians by five points on the road Feb. 25 and blew a 17-point lead to ICC in a 51-50 loss March 20 in Scooba.
There’s no doubt EMCC will be “pumped” for its rematch with Itawamba at 6 p.m. Monday in Fulton, Thompson said. But the Lions will be ready, too.
“We’ve been preparing for this,” Souza said.