Conner McKay had nine points on a pair of three-pointers during the state title game against No. 8 Jones County. (Matt Bush/JucoWeekly)
Conner McKay had nine points on a pair of three-pointers during the state title game against No. 8 Jones County. (Matt Bush/JucoWeekly)

Ellisville, Miss. – The Northeast Mississippi Community College men's basketball team never quite found its shooting touch while vying for its seventh gold ball in program history.


The Tigers fell to nationally ranked and host Jones County Junior College by a 77-52 margin in the championship game of the 2017 Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) State Tournament on Thursday, March 2 at A.B. Howard Gymnasium.


Northeast held the 8th-ranked Bobcats (25-1) well below their season average of 94.6 points per contest, but suffered from an abnormal offensive performance of its own.


The Tigers were just 25.4-percent overall from the floor and 15.4-percent on three-point attempts, which were both their second lowest totals of the entire campaign and the smallest since the beginning of the New Year.


Northeast has five athletes that traditionally average double figures, but only one reached that mark against the Bobcats. Kendall Stafford topped the Tigers with 10 points on the dot.


"Offensively, we just couldn't get anything going," said Northeast head coach Cord Wright. "Maybe we were a little tired. Everything was short and they never really could make the adjustment."


Jones County never relinquished the lead in the matchup between the MACJC's two respective division champions. Conner McKay put the Tigers on the scoreboard at the 17:21 mark with a jumper from long distance.


Northeast twice went three minutes between baskets in the early goings and found itself down 20-7 midway through the opening half. McKay settled the Tigers down with his second trey of the contest with 9:34 left before the break.


An 8-0 run brought Northeast back within two possessions of the Bobcats' advantage at 25-20. Shunn Buchanan had six of those points while Kendarius Smith chipped in a layup as well.


However, Jones County accumulated 17 of the final 22 points in the period during a lengthy span of over five minutes to take a 42-25 advantage over the Tigers (19-7) into the locker room.


Stafford accounted for the first points of the second half on an offensive rebound and putback. But Mississippi State University transfer Maurice Dunlap hit back-to-back three-pointers to extend the Bobcats' lead to 51-28.


Bryce Smith had a solid second half for Northeast with seven points. He added eight rebounds throughout the game, which was only one off Leroy Buchanan's game-high nine boards.


Several Tigers came close to the double-digit plateau. McKay followed Stafford with nine points while Shunn Buchanan and Kendarius Smith also registered eight points apiece.


Northeast and Jones County finished at a stalemate in the rebounding category with 49 apiece. The Tigers had an edge in bench points at 28-24 and second chance points at 22-17.


"We played well, but we just didn't play tough enough," Shunn Buchanan said. "We were just in a rush. We needed to settle down. This is definitely motivation because we're going to remember this feeling next week."


Northeast had already qualified for the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 Tournament prior to the state championship based upon its regular season results. The region event begins with women's action on Tuesday, March 7 at Mississippi College.