Northeast begins its NJCAA Region 23 title defense against East Central on March 8 at Miss. College's A.E. Wood Coliseum. (Michael H. Miller)
Northeast begins its NJCAA Region 23 title defense against East Central on March 8 at Miss. College's A.E. Wood Coliseum. (Michael H. Miller)

Clinton, Miss. – The Northeast Mississippi Community College men's basketball team has a giant target on its back as it prepares to put its championship on the line.


The reigning champs open the 2017 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 Tournament on Wednesday, March 8 against East Central Community College. Tipoff is slated for 3 p.m. inside A.E. Wood Coliseum.


Every Northeast game in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament will air live and in high definition on NEMCCTV. Tune in starting 15 minutes prior to tipoff for the pregame show by visiting www.nemcctv.com on any computer, smartphone or tablet.


The Northeast Broadcasting Network also includes Booneville based radio station WBIP. An audio simulcast featuring Jody Presley and Carter Smith, the Voices of the Tigers, can be heard on 99.7 FM and AM 1400 on your digital dial.


Search and follow @NEMCCTigers on Twitter for live in-game updates and interact during the matchup by using the hashtag #TigerPower across all social media platforms.


Northeast returns to the campus of Mississippi College for a third consecutive campaign, but under much different circumstances. The Tigers are the two-seed this year after getting into the field as the eight-seed in each of the last two seasons.


The Tigers ran the table to capture their eighth region title in program history one year ago. However, Northeast fully understands that championship is in the past and there are seven other talented squads vying for the crown this season.


"Everybody doesn't want us to win it two times in a row," said Tigers forward Zach Hudson. "We've just got to play together, listen and we'll be all right. We don't want to stop playing. We've really been clicking the last couple of days."


Hudson, who graduated from Wingfield High School, is one of six natives of the metro area who are returning home for regionals. Among those as well are the Buchanan brothers Leroy and Shunn.


Leroy Buchanan tops the Tigers with 18 points per game on the dot. The Murray State (Ky.) University signee has now scored in double-digits during 25 of Northeast's 26 contests so far this season.


"It's a new beginning and I hope to lead our team to victory," Buchanan said. "My team has been behind me picking me up. We're getting back to our old ways. When we play defense, we're hard to stop."


The younger Shunn Buchanan is now second on the squad with an average of 12 points. He has reached double figures in 10 of the last 12 matchups for the Tigers (19-7) dating back to mid-January.


Kendall Stafford adds 10.9 points and 5.4 rebounds for Northeast. Darius Williams and Kendarius Smith round out the list of double-digit scorers for the Tigers with 10.2 and 10 points, respectively.


"I think we're excited about it," said Northeast head coach Cord Wright. "I think we're playing well. We're confident entering this tournament and we're just ready to play."


The Warriors (14-10) are in the eight-team field after finishing with a 12-7 record against opponents from the states of Mississippi and Louisiana, which comprise the NJCAA's Region 23.


Tonzell Handy paces East Central offensively with 15.2 points and defensively with 7.9 boards, which are both team-highs. Cayman Ruffin follows him with 10.2 points each outing.


This is the third meeting between these two institutions this year and the second in as many weeks. Northeast most recently defeated the Warriors by a score of 86-69 in the first round of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) State Tournament.


The winner between the Tigers and East Central battles the victor between Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Southern (La.) University at Shreveport in the semifinals on Thursday, March 9. The men's championship game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. one night later.