Booneville, Miss. - JaQuante Bell came through for the Northeast Mississippi Community College men's basketball team in its final offensive possession after requesting the rock for several straight trips.
Bell made the game winning shot for the Tigers during their thrilling 79-77 triumph over Lawson State (Ala.) Community College on Thursday, November 9 inside legendary Bonner Arnold Coliseum.
The New Hope High School alumnus received a pass from Felix Hayes, turned around and hooked in a shot with his right hand from approximately three feet in front of the goal with just 23 seconds remaining to account for the winning margin.
"We ran my play and I got my team the win," Bell said. "I had asked for the ball the last two possessions. We just played inside out. The coaches tell us week in and week out to maintain and play the whole 40 minutes. It feels great."
Northeast survived a scare in the last 10 seconds after the Cougars got two different shots off, including a three-pointer that hit the rim three times, before Hayes pulled down a big defensive rebound as the horn sounded to secure the victory.
"We expected it to be a nip-and-tuck type game the whole way through," said Tigers head coach Cord Wright. "We had to make some plays at the end of the game and execute out of timeouts. All those things are why you play these games early to see how your team is going to respond."
The Tigers (2-0) actually held as large as a 24-point lead in the second half. But Lawson State got back into the matchup following a drought of nearly eight minutes without a field goal by Northeast.
The initial three-pointer of Bell's tenure with the Tigers gave them their largest lead at 50-26 less than two minutes after the intermission. However, it was a drastically different game just nine minutes later after the Cougars cut their deficit to one possession.
Northeast actually got its advantage back to double-digits at 65-55 following a Job Vernor trey that was assisted by Antares Gwyn. Vernor returned the favor to Gwyn by setting him up for a basket with 4:54 to go in the contest that gave the Tigers a 72-61 lead.
But Northeast scored only four points in the next three minutes, 30 seconds and the Cougars actually took a brief 77-76 advantage with 1:18 showing on the clock following two free throws from Roderick Melton, Jr.
Hayes made the back end of a two shot violation to bring the matchup into a 77-77 stalemate at the 1:00 mark and the Tigers forced a turnover on the opposite end moments later to set up Bell's late heroics.
"I told our guys after the game that we could be disappointed that we let the lead evaporate, but at the same token I was proud of them for hanging in there," Wright said. "That was a true test of adversity. Fortunately for us we were able to overcome it."
Bell tied with Melton, Jr., for a game-high 20 points. The 6-5, 230-pound forward was 7 of 12 from the floor, made five free throws and also notched nine rebounds in a team-best 31 minutes of action.
Gwyn followed him with his inaugural double-double in a black-and-gold uniform with 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Eight of those boards came on the offensive glass.
"I just want to give all the thanks to the good Lord. He helped us through this game," said Gwyn. "Practicing hard each and every day is what helped us there at the end. This win means a lot to us."
The Tigers had a major edge in second chance points with 22 compared to just three for Lawson State. Northeast shot 41.7 percent from the field overall and held a plus-six edge in rebounding.
Northeast used a 13-0 run midway through the first half to open up a 24-9 lead. Bell had eight points for the Tigers in that stretch while Thomas Cain connected on a shot from long distance as well.
Bryant Givens drained a clutch three-pointer and Bell completed a stellar period with an offensive rebound and putback to push Northeast's advantage up to 42-26 at halftime.
The Tigers remain at home on Tuesday, November 14 to welcome Volunteer State (Tenn.) Community College. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on the Booneville campus.