EMCC Lions earn No. 4 seed and first-round bye in NJCAA Region 23 hoops tourney

Published 10:09 am Monday, February 27, 2023

SCOOBA – With a pair of MACCC Tournament championships to their credit since 2019, the Lions of East Mississippi Community College will now focus their collective attention on this week’s NJCAA Region 23 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

While bouncing back from mid-February setbacks to Hinds and Itawamba, the EMCC Lions rallied to conclude regular-season conference play in exciting fashion by claiming overtime victories at home against Meridian (65-63) and on the road versus Mississippi Gulf Coast (75-74). In closing out the regular season with a 19-5 overall record and 10-4 MACCC mark, the Lions nailed down the fourth and final opening-round bye for the upcoming region tournament.

Without an MACCC postseason tournament championship being played to defend this year, head coach Billy Begley’s EMCC Lions will begin Region 23 tourney action Wednesday (March 1) by playing host to the winner of Monday’s first-round matchup between fifth-seeded Pearl River and No. 12 seed East Central. Wednesday’s quarterfinal-round contest on the Scooba campus is set for a 6 p.m. tip-off at EMCC’s Keyes T. Currie Coliseum.

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With the top three teams from the men’s final regular-season MACCC basketball standings, along with reigning four-time champion LSU Eunice from the Louisiana conference, receiving opening-round byes, the first two rounds of this year’s 12-team region tournament will be played on campus sites Monday (Feb. 27) and Wednesday (March 1). The week-long tournament is then set to conclude during the weekend (March 4-5) at Mississippi College’s A.E. Wood Coliseum in Clinton. The women’s tournament semifinals will be played Saturday at noon and 2 p.m., followed by the men’s semifinals at 5 and 7 p.m. Sunday’s championship contests are set for 3 p.m. (women) and 5 p.m. (men).

Following MACCC regular-season men’s champion Copiah-Lincoln (18-5, 12-2 MACCC) in the conference standings, the other men’s teams receiving opening-round byes in this week’s Region 23 tournament are No. 2 seed LSU Eunice (19-3, 8-0 LCCAC), third-seeded Itawamba (21-4, 11-3), and No. 4 seed East Mississippi.

During the regular season, EMCC played both Pearl River and East Central on the road a week apart in early February. The Lions dropped a 54-52 overtime decision to the PRCC Wildcats on Feb. 2 in Poplarville, while bouncing back a week later (Feb. 9) with an 82-66 victory over the ECCC Warriors in Decatur.

Along with having previously directed the Lions to conference tournament championships in 2019 and again last year, EMCC’s Begley was also associated with three consecutive NJCAA Region 23 Tournament titles a decade ago (2011-13) as an assistant coach under the guidance of former EMCC men’s head coach Mark White. After leaving EMCC for a two-year assistant coaching stint at Troy University, Begley returned to the Scooba campus in 2015 and promptly led the Lions to the championship game of the 2016 NJCAA Region 23 Tournament and a subsequent fifth NJCAA Tournament appearance during a seven-year span.

This year’s 19-5 EMCC squad is powered by sophomore guard and MACCC Player of the Year candidate Blake Butler, out of Louisville, Ky. The third-year standout enters the postseason ranked 18th nationally and third within the MACCC with an average of 20.6 points per contest. Butler is a three-time MACCC Player of the Week during his EMCC career (twice this season), including claiming the league’s weekly honor last year when he helped lead the Lions to their second conference tournament championship in four years.