CLINTON — The Coahoma Community College women’s basketball team fared better than it had in more than 30 years as it finished the season as runner-up in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
The Lady Tigers (15-3) went from being toward the bottom of the league to co-conference champions in Stephanie Murphy’s third season as head coach. They took a 14-game winning streak into the NJCAA Region 23 championship game.
"Our basketball team, I tell you,” said CCC president Dr. Valmadge Towner at Monday’s board meeting. “They have inspired us on the girls side. They represented us well. They won Monday night last week and they won Wednesday night last week and they did very well Friday night for a little while with a very formidable Jones College team. But we have not made it that far since I was a freshman in college in 1988.
"We had a great following of people going down to Clinton on Friday night and had bad weather coming back, but everybody made it back safe," he added. "They've shown us how to win. They've shown us what's possible and I'm so happy for those student-athletes, the coaches as well as their families."
Towner said he hopes to recognize the CCC women’s basketball team at a board meeting in the near future.
The NJCAA Region 23 Tournament came down to four teams that played at Mississippi College in Clinton.
CCC lost in the finals to the No. 1 team in the country undefeated Jones County Junior College 80-46 Friday night.
“I’m still just super excited about the success that we had throughout the year,” said Murphy after the loss. “One game and one loss are not going to take away from everything that was accomplished this year. We had an unbelievable year. We finished the season 15-3. We lost to the No. 1 team in the country. We were on a 14-game winning streak. We didn’t play our best ball today, but we still represented Coahoma in the best way possible because we never quit.”
Murphy said the success this past season could inspire more athletes to want to play for CCC.
“It’s all about players,” Murphy said. “Now that we’ve gotten some wins and gotten some success, I hope that it makes recruiting a little bit easier, but we’re still going to go about the work and go about the process the same way that we were doing it. We hope that kids could see that, ‘Hey, you could win at Coahoma’ and, if we get the right players in, maybe we could get on Jones’ level. That’s the goal.”
CCC took a 10-9 lead against Jones in the first quarter. However, Jones ended the quarter on a 15-2 run to take a 24-12 lead into the second person. Jones extended the lead to 42-18 at halftime.
Post player Brailyn Tate kept CCC in the game with six first quarter points and 16 in the game. Guard Mary Wilkins had six points in the first quarter and 13 in the game.
No other Lady Tiger had more than four points,
“With a team like that, you just really have to be disciplined the entire time,” Murphy said. “That was the most disappointing thing. We just didn’t do all of the small things that we had talked about doing. We knew we had to get back in transition. Our transition defense was never there. We knew how we wanted to guard players coming off the screen and roll. We never did it. We just didn’t play our best basketball tonight.”
Guard Jurnee McLaurin has been the team’s leading scorer for much of the season, but she was held to three points on a 3-pointer in the third quarter. Foul trouble kept her on the bench.
“One of the things that was key was our best player never got a chance to consistently play,” Murphy said. “Jurnee McLaurin was in foul trouble the entire game. So every time she came into the game, she got a foul. Jurnee is averaging 20 a game. You can’t make that up if she’s sitting on the bench in foul trouble. That’s just how that went.”
Geonna Marshall and Ayani Cockrell finished with four points each, Tamia Brown added three, Ashanti Backus contributed two and Rolonda Willis added one.
“Go Tigers. God is good,” said Murphy after the game.
The Lady Tigers defeated East Mississippi Community College 70-51 in the semifinals Wednesday, April 7.
CCC’s last loss before its 14-game winning streak was to EMCC. The two teams split the regular season series, but CCC won the rubber match last week.
McLaurin led the way with 23 points and got things going with 13 in the first quarter. She also connected on three 3-pointers in the contest.
Backus also got things going from the outside with a 3-pointer in the first and second quarter. She finished with six points in the contest.
Coahoma County High School graduate Nakia Cheatham scored five points and added another 3 in the second quarter.
The Lady Tigers finished with six 3-pointers.
“I felt like when we got open shots, we ran our sets, I feel like we did a good job of executing,” Murphy said. “I felt like we kind of fell in love with the jumper a little bit too much.”
A McLaurin 3 put CCC ahead 37-24 with 9:30 remaining in the third quarter.
EMCC cut the lead to 45-41 with 2:56 remaining in the quarter before the Lady Tigers opened their lead back up.
“It’s just a blessing,” Murphy said. “We’re going to continue to stand what we’ve been standing on. We’re going to work. We’re going to believe and then we’re going to give God glory. And so we’re used to having runs. We just tell the girls when the runs happen, just don’t blink. Move on to the next play. The game of basketball is filled with runs. That’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to continue to believe in what we do.”
CCC struggled from the free throw line in the playoff game before the final four. The Lady Tigers still squeaked by with a 67-65 home victory against Southwest Mississippi Community College.
Murphy said the team practiced free throws at Mississippi College Tuesday and Wednesday. She felt the win in the semifinals was a team effort.
“We have a lot of balance on our team and we believe in everybody,” Murphy said. “We know we can go 11 deep. Bray is much better than what she gives herself credit for. I don’t feel like anybody could guard Mary in the whole country and Jurnee has been scoring all season long. We know we have that big three and then we got balance from our bench as well. Ayani Cockrell stepped up and made some big plays. I just believe in everybody we put in the game. We’re just thankful for God for everything he’s doing for our program.”
Wilkins finished with 13 points, Tate finished with 12, Cockrell added five, Marshall contributed two, Valencia Watson had two, and Litasha Paty had two.