Booneville, Miss. - A trio of Corinth High School graduates put the Northeast Mississippi Community College men's basketball program on their shoulders during a pivotal rivalry matchup.
The collaboration of Desmin Harris, Raheem Sorrell and Kendall Stafford combined for 33 crucial points during the Tigers' 71-61 victory against Itawamba Community College on Monday, February 8 inside legendary Bonner Arnold Coliseum.
The win over the Indians also placed Northeast (15-6, 7-3) all alone at the top spot in the rugged Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) North Division with only two games remaining in the regular season.
"I told them in the locker room that I was proud of them because I thought for the first time all year we really collectively played as a team," said Tigers headman Cord Wright. "I think in every aspect defensively we were pretty solid. As a unit we were able to do some pretty good things."
The two adversaries participated in a back-and-forth affair during the initial eight-plus minutes of the contest. There were seven lead changes and another five instances in which the score was tied in that span.
Jack Nichols connected on a trey that was assisted by Dashiell Franklin to give Northeast a 16-14 advantage. Itawamba responded moments later with a Barri Hill bucket to bring the matchup into a stalemate at 16-apiece.
The Tigers utilized a quick 7-0 spurt to take what turned out to be a permanent lead. Stafford started the run with a big three-pointer from the top of the key while Nichols and Sorrell had baskets as well.
Northeast built its advantage by keeping the Indians from making a field goal for eight minutes and 17 seconds. The Tigers leaped ahead by double-digits before Carter Sweat's jumper at the 3:29 mark broke Itawamba's drought.
The Indians came within two possessions of the Tigers twice after the break. But Stafford got the Tigers out of both tricky situations with two baskets that were both assisted by Smith.
Leroy Buchanan and Smith made four of six free throws in the final 62 seconds to clinch the triumph for Northeast. It is the third win in the past four tries for the Tigers versus Itawamba.
"Late in the season, it's about who can play the best as a team night in and night out," Wright said. "I love our talent and I think we've got some special players. I thought tonight was a stepping stone for us."
Stafford reached double figures for the second time in Northeast's last three outings. He amassed a team-high 16 points on 6 of 13 shooting and six rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
Sorrell had one of his best performances in the post as a sophomore for the Tigers. The reigning MACJC All-State selection contributed 11 points and a team-best seven boards to the winning cause.
"This is a big achievement for us," Sorrell said. "I played pretty tough around the rim. I was also able to score and get to the free throw line. I feel like I did well tonight."
Smith rounded out Northeast's double-digit scorers with 12 points plus six dimes. Nichols and Lawson barely missed that plateau with nine points each while Harris completed the list of Corinth natives with six points in 28 minutes.
The Tigers forced the Indians (12-9, 5-5) into committing 20 turnovers and transitioned those miscues into 13 points. Northeast also held a 30-20 edge in points in the paint.
(W) Itawamba 83, Northeast 63
Timaya Stewart continued to show her progression for the Lady Tigers during her freshman campaign. She recorded her inaugural double-double at the collegiate level with a game-high 23 points plus a career-best 10 rebounds.
"I felt like I did good. Better than I ever have actually," said Stewart. "Our coaches told us to give it our all so that's what I did. I showed it by the way I played. I want to continue to do the same thing."
The Lady Tigers (10-11, 4-6) built their advantage to 10-4 with 6:50 remaining in the first quarter following two free throws from Shelby Wilbanks and another make by Stewart.
The Lady Indians (16-5, 8-2) used a 14-0 run from that instance to take a lead that they did not relinquish. A jumper from Wilbanks finally snapped the stretch, but Itawamba took a 22-12 advantage after the first.
Northeast kept things close throughout the second period and began to trim its deficit at the 2:15 mark. Wilbanks had four points and Stewart went one of two at the charity stripe to bring the Lady Tigers within 37-32.
Natasha Jones drained a shot from beyond the arc moments later to make the score 39-35 in favor of the Lady Indians with less than a minute showing on the clock. But Marlee Hatcher banked a trey off the glass with just seconds to go to push Itawamba's lead to 44-36 at halftime.
Stewart was very active immediately after the break for the Lady Tigers. She assisted a layup by Patterson and had five points, including an old-fashioned three-point play that dwindled the Lady Indians' advantage to 48-43.
An offensive rebound and putback from Stewart with 2:52 left in the third quarter kept Northeast in striking distance at 56-50. But Itawamba concluded the period with a streak of nine unanswered points and the Lady Tigers never fully recovered.
"I think that they have fought all year to get better and we have made leaps and bounds," Northeast head coach Brenda Mayes said. "We've just got to continue to work at that pace."
Wilbanks added 12 points for the Lady Tigers. She has now accumulated double figures during each of Northeast's 21 games so far during her outstanding freshman campaign.
Patterson poured in 13 points and tied Wilbanks with seven boards. She was five of seven from the floor with four blocks to increase her tally in that category to a phenomenal 51 this season.
The Lady Tigers shot 40.4 percent overall and were 15 of 21 from the charity stripe. Northeast notched 12 total assists, including four apiece by the duo of Jones and Stewart.
Both the Lady Tigers and Tigers have the remainder of the week off before returning to action on Monday, February 15 at Coahoma Community College. Tipoff for the women's contest is set for 6 p.m. with the men to follow at The Pinnacle.