Scooba, Miss. – Al Azulphar silenced any critics that the Northeast Mississippi Community College center might have had on Thursday night against some of the top prospects in the state.
The 6-11, 250-pound post player poured in career-highs with 17 points and 12 rebounds, but defending National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 champion East Mississippi Community College maintained its poise and beat the Tigers 71-53 at Keyes T. Currie Coliseum.
It is the second double-double for Azulphar in three contests. He had a 12-point, 11 board performance versus then-No. 15 Jones County Junior College last Tuesday.
Azulphar credits the improvements he has made this semester to extra work on the court during the holiday break in his native Connecticut.
"I worked out when I was back home," he said. "I had time to get things right with my post game, legs, positioning and upper body."
The Brien McMahon High School product went toe-to-toe down low with University of Alabama transfer and former five-star recruit Devonta Pollard. The one-time Gatorade Mississippi Player of the Year finished with just four points, his worst total for this season, and five rebounds.
University of Memphis signee Avery Woodson was also limited by Northeast guards to a yearly low of six points on just 20 percent shooting.
Azulphar added one block to increase his Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) lead in that category to 45. He is 11th in the nation and now averages four blocks per outing.
"It's instinct. I just try to get everything that's coming my way," said Azulphar. "I think I played pretty good, but I can do better."
The Lions (9-3, 1-1 MACJC North Division) used full-court man-to-man pressure out of the gate to force Northeast into turning the ball over. East Mississippi scored the matchup's initial 10 points before an Azulphar layup got the Tigers on the scoreboard at the 16:12 mark.
Overall, the Lions used 20 first half turnovers from Northeast to take a 41-20 advantage into the locker room.
Tigers' headman Cord Wright made adjustments during the break that resulted in a much more crisp and efficient team. Northeast turned the ball over only four times in the final 20 minutes and outscored East Mississippi 33-30 in that time.
"We did a better job against the press break and attacked the rim," Wright said. "We were way more aggressive and didn't let the pressure that got to us in the first half really get to us in the second."
Azulphar put an exclamation point on a much stronger half by Northeast with an emphatic two-handed dunk off a Dexter Stafford steal that silenced a raucous crowd in Scooba.
"Our effort is there, and I do appreciate that," said Wright. "We're getting ready to turn the corner and we've just got to hang in there."
Davon Ester topped all scorers with 21 points while Jacolby Mobley, who has inked with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, contributed 15 for the Lions.
Azulphar was the lone double-digit performer for the Tigers, but Edwards and Leach tallied seven points apiece towards the cause.
(W) East Mississippi 64, Northeast 46
The Lady Tigers could not buy a bucket during the second half and shot 29.2 percent overall in the period. Northeast made just one three-pointer in the entire contest.
"I think that was really the key to the game," said Lady Tiger head coach Brian Alexander. "They were able to defend us and we still got some really good shots. They just didn't go down."
A Savannah Kimmons field goal with 3:38 remaining until halftime gave East Mississippi a 24-22 lead, one it would hold for the remainder of the matchup.
Antionette Riddle took the Lady Tigers into the intermission with the momentum, however, after driving through the lane for a layup as the horn sounded to cut the Lady Lions' edge to 31-27.
Northeast (5-9, 0-3) came as close as 40-38 after another Riddle basket in the paint, but the home squad used an 11-2 run over a span of three minutes that included two makes from Takera Mitchell to put the game away.
"I thought we did a pretty good job handling their pressure," said Williams, who finished with seven points and two steals. "We just couldn't make all our shots. We've got to stay focused and play with more heart."
Aushiana Ivy and Riddle both scored 11 points to head the Lady Tigers' offensive output. It was Riddle's ninth straight outing to reach double figures while Ivy participated in a career-best 39 minutes.
The Lady Tigers scored 18 points off 25 Lady Lion turnovers. Ten of those forced errors were off steals with Kiki Gwyn guiding Northeast with four.
Mitchell scored eight of her game-high 13 points after halftime and Charmane Tims notched 10 for East Mississippi.
The Lady Lions (7-6, 2-1) were only 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc. It is the ninth time in 14 outings by the Lady Tigers that its opponent has been held at or below that number on three-point attempts.
"I thought our defense was pretty good," said Alexander. "I'm not discouraged, and I told our team we wouldn't be discouraged. We're going to keep moving forward."
Northeast returns to Booneville on Tuesday, January 21 when Coahoma Community College comes to town. Women's tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. while the men are scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start inside Bonner Arnold Coliseum in an important MACJC North Division doubleheader.