ELLISVILLE — A dominant second-half defensive performance paved the way for Mississippi Gulf Coast to trounce Northeast Mississippi 64-45 in the first round of the MACJC Tournament on Monday night.
The Lady Bulldogs (14-8), playing in its first postseason since 2013, exploded for a 17-0 run in the third quarter, then held the Lady Tigers (15-8) without a fourth-quarter field goal.
"Everybody realized it wasn't our time to go home," sophomore guard Shelli Thigpen said. "Everybody bought into the game plan. We all started believing and it kicked in."
With the win, Gulf Coast advanced to a 5:30 p.m. Wednesday semifinal against No. 4 Jones. The game will be streamed at http://jcjc.tv, and live stats will be available at https://nwccrangers.com/sidearmstats/wbball/summary.
The Lady Bulldogs also clinched a berth in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Clinton next week.
Thigpen (So., Wylie, Texas/Wylie) led Gulf Coast with 19 points and four assists. She also had two steals. Breannah McCullah (So., Edwards/Raymond) had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds while picking up four steals.
The last time the two teams met in the postseason was also in 2013. Northeast won an overtime game in the first round of the MACJC Tournament before Gulf Coast avenged the loss in overtime of the first round of the Region 23 Tourney.
Gulf Coast turned the ball over repeatedly in the first quarter, but rallied from eight down to trail just 14-11 despite 11 turnovers. The Lady Bulldogs tied it at 32 on McCullah's long-range bomb just ahead of the halftime buzzer.
"Coach got on us and got us coached up," she said. "After the first quarter, we were a little bit worried, but we knew we were going to stick together. It was all about the intensity of defense."
The defense clamped down coming out of the locker room, and a shift to a 1-3-1 zone provided dividends. Gulf Coast held Northeast scoreless over a 5:30 span and shot 8-for-11 from the field on a 17-0 run to go up 51-36.
The Lady Bulldogs have certainly come a long way in a season. Last year, they finished 6-17 overall, and 0-16 in the South.
"It's wonderful," Thigpen said. "Last year, we didn't even win a game. It's a huge step. I believe in my teammates. I believe we can go places."
The fourth quarter put an exclamation mark on the evening, as Northeast managed only three made free throws down the stretch. The Lady Tigers made only one of their last 25 shots from the field.
"That means our defensive intensity is turned up," Adams said. "We're headed to the semifinals, and we're gonna prepare for Jones."
2019 MACJC Tournament Schedule
Game 1: N1. Itawamba 81, S4. Pearl River 63
Game 2: S2. Copiah-Lincoln 65, N3. East Mississippi 47
Game 3: S1. Jones 88, N4. Mississippi Delta 53
Game 4: S3. Gulf Coast 64, N2. Northeast 45
Game 5: Itawamba (20-3) vs. Copiah-Lincoln (19-5), 1 p.m.
Game 6: Jones (22-2) vs. Gulf Coast (14-8), 5:30 p.m.
Game 7: Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 5:30 p.m.
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.