Stephanie Murphy had one goal of turning the program around when she became the Coahoma Community College women’s basketball coach.
Murphy accomplished her goal in her third season as the Lady Tigers are in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament semifinals. CCC faces East Mississippi Community College this week at Mississippi College in Clinton. The winner will face the winner of the other semifinals game between Jones County Junior College and Louisiana State University Eunice.
The finals will be at Mississippi College on Friday.
Murphy was all smiles after the Lady Tigers clinched a trip to the final four.
“I feel amazing,” Murphy said. “It’s such a testimony just about the faithfulness of God and us just hanging in there and just being persistent and just continuing to believe that we could win here. We’re just thankful for everything that God has done. It’s just a blessing. I feel amazing.”
Advancing to the final four was not easy for the Lady Tigers (14-2). They had to win two playoff games at home and the second one came down to the final seconds.
CCC defeated Southwest Mississippi Community College from Summit 67-65 Monday night.
The Lady Tigers led 67-64, but the Lady Bears attempted a 3-point field goal with 0.7 seconds remaining on the clock. CCC sophomore guard Tamia Brown committed a foul on the play giving SMCC three free throw attempts and a chance to tie the game.
The Lady Bears made the first free throw and missed the second. The shooter intentionally missed the third free throw to give Lady Bears an opportunity to get the offensive rebound and score.
CCC kept SMCC from getting the rebound as the clock ran out and the Lady Tigers hung on to win by two.
Lady Tigers sophomore guard Ayani Cockrell connected on two free throws with five seconds remaining to extend their lead to 67-64.
However, CCC missed four free throws that could have put the game away earlier.
Sophomore forward Brailyn Tate missed two free throws with 29 seconds remaining and freshman guard Ashanti Backus missed another two with 16.1 seconds on the clock.
“We couldn’t put the game away with free throws,” Murphy said. “We missed too many free throws down the stretch and had a bonehead error in that last one second, but I’m just glad we were able to hold on. It wasn’t the prettiest game down the stretch, but held on. That’s what’s most important, surviving and advancing.”
CCC led most of the night, but could not put the game away.
The Lady Tigers jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the opening minutes with help of back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Mary Wilkins and sophomore guard Jurnee McLaurin. McLaurin led CCC scorers with 20 points including three 3-pointers in the opening quarter.
The Lady Bears did not have a lead until the final moments of the third quarter when they hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
SMCC led 46-44 going into the fourth quarter.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the fourth quarter.
Freshman forward Nakia Cheatham, a Coahoma County High School graduate, had only scored two points through three quarters, but made two key baskets in the fourth quarter. She connected on a 3-pointer with 6:16 remaining to give the Lady Tigers a 52-50 lead and scored on an offensive rebound with 4:05 remaining to put them ahead 57-55. She finished with seven points.
Murphy said those were examples of the win being a team effort.
“It was (a team effort),” Murphy said. “Cheatham was in foul trouble early on. We told her we still needed her to be aggressive and she made some big baskets. The put back she got was big. The 3 she had was big. So she did really good down the stretch for us.”
Tate, who finished with 11 points, connected on a 3-point play and made another 2-pointer to put the Lady Tigers ahead 63-57 with 1:02 remaining in the game.
Brown and Wilkins had five points each, Backus had six, sophomore forward Iitasha Paty had four, Cockrell had seven, and sophomore forward Geonna Marshall had two.
Murphy knows the Lady Tigers will have to step up their game in the final four.
“We’ve definitely got to shoot free throws better,” Murphy said. “We kind of struggled the last two games making free throws, but we’re going to get in tomorrow (Tuesday). We’ll get some of it before we go. We’ve just got to do a better job of boxing out and making free throws.”
CCC and EMCC split the two regular season matchups with each team winning at home.
“East Mississippi is tough,” Murphy said. “They’re good. We’re familiar with them. We know they’re going to be tough. They’re tough on defense. They’re balanced offensively. We’ve just got to play a complete game.
“Go Tigers!” Murphy concluded.