PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast lost an overtime heartbreaker Monday night, falling 72-70 to Meridian at the Weathers-Wentzell Center in a critical MACJC South game.
The Bulldogs (14-5, 6-5 South) led by 14 in the first half and 12 at halftime, missing out on a chance to move into a tie with Southwest for second in the division. Copiah-Lincoln upset the Bears, but Gulf Coast's upset loss of its own drops the Bulldogs into a three-way tie for third.
Gulf Coast is tied with Jones and Hinds, but plays those two teams to close out the regular season after Thursday's game against Pearl River, the second-ranked team in the country. The Bulldogs travel to Jones and host Hinds. Only four teams qualify for the state tournament.
Gulf Coast scored the first eight points of the game and led 21-7 less than eight minutes into the game.
Dillyn Neely (So., Biloxi/Biloxi) made a 3-pointer with nine minutes left to make it a 51-43 game, but Meridian (8-12, 3-8) went on a 12-2 run to take its first lead with 5:54 left in regulation.
D'yasmond Booker (Fr., Pascagoula/Pascagoula) tied it 55 with two free throws at the 5:32 mark. After Meridian made a free throw, Aaron Harrison (Fr., West Philadelphia/Philadelphia, Pa.) put Gulf Coast up 57-56 with a driving bucket.
Damien Wheaton (Fr., Bay Springs/Bay Springs) dunked a perfect pick-and-roll pass from Justin Minter (Fr., Wenonah/Birmingham, Ala.) with 1:52 left for a 59-56 lead, and the Bulldogs appeared to be back in control.
But on the next possession, after Gulf Coast played suffocating defense, Meridian had a 3-point prayer answered at the shot-clock buzzer for a 59-59 tie.
Neither team could score in the last 79 seconds of regulation. After Meridian made two more 3's to open overtime, Gulf Coast battled back to tie it 67-67 with 56 seconds left on another Wheaton dunk.
Meridian sealed it with another 3-pointer and two free throws, aided by Gulf Coast missing the front end of a one-and-one with 16.1 seconds left. Neely's final 3 with 0.9 seconds left wasn't enough.
Booker led Gulf Coast with 14 points. Neely added 12, and Teh'Juan Powell (So., Salem/Conyers, Ga.) scored 10.
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