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EMCC men face uncertainties

 

Adam Minichino

 

Mark White isn''t sure what he''ll get today. 

 

His East Mississippi Community College men''s basketball team is still dealing with sickness that affected the Lions on Thursday in a loss to Northeast Mississippi C.C. in the regular-season finale. 

 

EMCC''s Coco Ware also missed practice time due to a death in his family and Jonathan King''s effectiveness is uncertain as he recovers from a strained Achilles tendon. 

 

But White isn''t worried. 

 

While White would love to follow his team''s first MACJC North Division title with a state championship, he knows a perfect week isn''t essential. After last season''s MACJC State Tournament, the men''s basketball coaches agreed to a change that essentially makes this week''s games stand-alone events. The results this week won''t affect the seeding for next week''s regional tournament. The outcome of the regional tournament will determine who will play at the national tournament in Kansas next month. 

 

EMCC (21-4, 10-2 MACJC) will take its first step toward that goal at 7:30 tonight when it plays host to Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. at Keyes T. Currie Coliseum on the Scooba campus. 

 

Action in the women''s tournament will begin Tuesday. The EMCC Lady Lions (14-11, 8-4) will face No. 3 nationally ranked Copiah-Lincoln at 7:30 p.m. The results of the women''s state tournament will affect the seedings for next week''s regional tournament. 

 

White said the change for this season''s men''s tournament doesn''t mean the Lions won''t pursue their goal of trying to win the event. Instead, White said Sunday he won''t push any of his players too hard or to force them to play if they aren''t 100 percent. He said he would prefer to rest any player who still feels sick or isn''t healthy enough so they can be at top shape for the regional tournament. 

 

"We''ll be as full force as we can possibly be tonight," White said. "From a coaching perspective, I try not to harp on or let the things I can''t control bother me. You have got to go with what you have got and hope if the other guys who were sick or hurt can''t go that, hopefully, other guys will step up." 

 

White doesn''t want to jeopardize a season that has seen the Lions win the school''s first MACJC North Division men''s basketball title. The Lions, who are ranked No. 8, also earned the program''s first top 10 national rankings last week. 

 

Unfortunately, EMCC had its seven-game winning streak snapped Thursday in a 71-67 loss at Northeast Mississippi C.C. But White remains confident in part because the Lions are 11-1 at home this season. Their only loss in Scooba came in a 79-74 overtime defeat to Hinds C.C. on Nov. 9. 

 

But White also doesn''t know if the Lions will be at full strength. King, a freshman forward, missed the last game with a strained Achilles tendon. Sophomores Ware, John Harris, and Terence Bennett all played sick against Northeast Mississippi C.C. The sickness forced White to use only six players in the second half of that game. 

 

To compound matters, Ware missed practice Sunday to be with his family after the death of his grandmother. He returned to campus Sunday and planned to work out with White to go over the team''s game plan for tonight''s game. 

 

White said Harris had a real bad chest cold at practice Sunday and that King looked pretty good. He said he would determine the status of both players tonight. 

 

The Lions will be a tough out if they are close to 100 percent. White said two things have made his team so strong this season. 

 

"We are a really tough team," White said. "We are really, really mentally tough and a hard-playing bunch. When we have everybody right and focused and ready to go, we''re really, really good defensively." 

 

White said his team plays zero zone and relies on an in-your-face, aggressive half-court defense to control tempo. 

 

On offense, Ware, a former Starkville High standout, leads the Lions in scoring (19.8 points per game) and steals (68). Harris, another Starkville High product, has started 19 games and averages 5.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game. 

 

White hopes both players will be close to 100 percent tonight so the Lions can regroup and try to realize goals No. 2 and No. 3, which would be to add a state and a regional title to their haul. 

 

"What I love about the kids is they are special kids," White said. "They have just one focus, which is winning our next game against Gulf Coast. It is not going to be easy because they are a talented team, so we''re going to have our hands full. We''re going to have to bring our ''A'' game (tonight)." 

 

Today''s first-round action tips off at noon with Itawamba C.C. (17-8, 8-4) taking on Hinds C.C. Pearl River C.C. will take on Holmes C.C. at 2 p.m., followed by a 5:30 p.m. game between Jones County J.C. and Northeast Mississippi.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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