By Gene Phelps
FULTON - On the ugly meter, Itawamba's play in the final 8 1/2 minutes of Tuesday's MACJC women's state tournament opener against Copiah-Lincoln rated an eight or nine on a one-to-10 scale.
During that time frame, the Lady Indians scored just one field.
They also made only 10-of-21 free throws.
However, the pretty part was the scoreboard: ICC 66, Co-Lin 63.
"That got ugly," said ICC forward Keisha Shumpert, whose hustling play on a loose ball resulted in a layup and her team's lone field goal down the stretch. "But, you have to get those. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
ICC (18-8), which has won 17 of its last 18 games, moved into today's 6 p.m. semifinal game against Holmes (11-13), a 74-69 upset winner against East Central.
Southwest (19-6) plays Meridian (22-4) at 1:30 today in the other women's semifinal. The tournament's women's final is set for 6 Thursday.
The Lady Indians clinched the victory with 5.9 seconds remaining when Jessica Collins nailed back-to-back free throws to give her team a 66-61 lead.
Co-Lin (17-8), which led only once, 49-48, with 9:45 remaining, saw that edge quickly evaporate on three consecutive baskets by ICC's Paige Williamson, Lakeisha Bowling and Sanqueeta Meardith.
"I don't even know how much we won by," a relieved ICC coach Nanci Gray said. "We missed some key free throws, but then we made some at the end.
"We've got two more nights that are going to be just like this if we advance. We expect a battle from whoever we play."
Meardith, who scored a team-high 18 points, connected on two 3-pointers in the opening minutes to help the Lady Indians race to a 13-2 lead.
Co-Lin worked its way back into contention, cutting the Indians' lead to two points before heading to dressing room at halftime down 35-29.
"Co-Lin's a great man-to-man defensive team and they adjusted to what we were doing," Gray noted.
Offensively, Reisha Bullock scored a game-high 22 points and two crucial field goals for the Lady Wolves in the final two minutes. Her tip-in with 59 seconds remaining cut ICC's lead to 62-61.
For ICC, Shumpert and Collins finished with 14 points apiece.
(Lady Tigers exit)
Southwest's shooters needed about five minutes to adjust to the wide-open spaces of the Davis Event Center.
When they did the results were deadly for Northeast.
Whitley Wiltz scored 19 points and Phenicia Taylor added 18 as the Lady Bears rallied from an early deficit to end the Lady Tigers' season with a 67-46 decision.
"I knew if we were going to be satisfied shooting 3s we were going to be in trouble," said Southwest coach Mark Swindle, who watched his club shoot a hot 62 percent from the field. "The key was we started getting offensive rebounds and getting those short shots to open up the basket."
Northeast (12-12), the two-time defending state champion, saw its season end. The Lady Tigers needed to advance to the semifinals to qualify for next week's Region 23 tournament.
"I was disappointed in our overall effort, especially defensively," Lady Tigers coach Ricky Ford said. "We didn't do the things a team needs to do to win a championship ... and that's lay it all on the line."
Southwest trailed 20-17 at the 6:45 mark when Northeast's Erika Wright hit a layup.
The Lady Bears responded with a 15-2 run to take a 32-22 halftime lead. Taylor scored nine points, including a 3-pointer, to lead Southwest's late surge.
Northeast, which led by as many as nine points early in the first half, struggled shooting. The Tigers connected on just 7-of-22 for 31 percent while the Bears shot 50 percent.
Eboni Crayton, who had 19 points, was the lone Northeast player to score in double figures.
In Tuesday's other opening-round games, Meridian defeated East Mississippi 78-64 and East Central played Holmes.
NaDasha Strickland scored 26 points to lead Meridian. For East Mississippi (11-15), Shaunice Miller scored 21 points with 14 of those coming in the first half.
MACJC State Tournament
Women's Opening Round
ICC 66, Co-Lin 63
Halftime: ICC 35-29
Leading scorers: (ICC) Sanqueeta Meardith 18, Keisha Shumpert 14, Jessica Collins 14, (CL) Reisha Bullock 22, Rhonda Dumas 13, Kristin Ellis 12.
Records: ICC 18-8, Co-Lin 17-8.
Meridian 78, East Mississippi 64
Halftime: Meridian 31-25.
Leading scorers: (M) NaDosha Strickland 26, Tiara Parker 17, Zirconia Hopkins 11, (EM) Shaunice Miller 21, Kottia White 10, Sanitra Bush 10, LaBrea Jones 10.
Records: Meridian 22-4, East Miss. 11-15.
Southwest 67, Northeast 46
Halftime: Southwest 32-22.
Leading scorers: (NE) Eboni Crayton 19, (SW) Whitley Wiltz 19, Phenicia Taylor 18, Erin Brabham 10.
Records: Northeast 12-12, Southwest 19-6.