By Russell Moore
FOR THE TIMES
Wallace State Community College is set to host the women’s and men’s Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/NJCAA Region XXII tournaments at Tom Drake Coliseum on March 3-9.
Each tournament is a four-day event. The women begin play Sunday at 1 p.m., the first of four games scheduled on that day. Their championship game is Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The men’s tournament begins Wednesday at 11 a.m. and culminates with the championship game set for Saturday, March 9 at 5 p.m.
“We’re excited about hosting the tournament. We are ready for the teams and their fans to get into town, so we can show them our facilities and extend some Wallace State hospitality. We’ll take pride in this like we do when we host the AHSAA Northwest Regional,” said Wallace State Director of Athletics Paul Bailey. “There is a lot of good basketball talent in the junior college system, and we’re excited we’ll have them here. We encourage all sports fans to come watch high quality basketball next week.”
General admission to the tournament is $7 daily or $25 for a weekly pass. Wallace State students and children under the age of 6 are admitted free. Senior citizen tickets are $5.
The Lady Lions, who defeated Lawson State 73-63 in their regular-season finale Thursday, have earned the North’s second seed and a first-round bye. Wallace State, winners of five of its last seven games, will play Monday at 7 p.m. against an undetermined opponent. Wallace State (20-9) has been led all season by freshman point guard Jaylan Snowden and sophomore forward Ashley Nance, who averages a double-double with team-highs 16.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.
“It’s a huge benefit when you have a bye and only have to play three games to be the champions. We are going to embrace having the tournament on our home floor. I’m certain we will have a good crowd every night. We don’t have to travel and can sleep in our own beds. We can keep the same routine and that’s important,” said Wallace State women’s coach Ron Burdette, whose team finished state runner-up last season. “When you’re in the tournament, you play a one-game season for three or four nights. Our goal is to make sure we are playing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. We’re ready for the challenge. Our freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore. They have matured, gained confidence and followed the leadership of Ashley Nance.”
Wallace State and Shelton State have played in the women’s tournament championship game the last two seasons, splitting the meetings.
Two years ago, in coach Larry Slater’s final season, Wallace State’s women were the North Division’s third seed and won the program’s sixth state title, winning four games in four days to earn the championship.
Likewise, the Wallace State men are familiar with running the table in March. The defending ACCC state champions crept into last year’s tournament as a No. 6 seed and doubled its regular season conference win total by winning four games in four days, earning the program’s second championship in three seasons.
“We picked the best four-day stretch last year to play our best basketball. Ultimately, that’s what it’s about this time of the year,” said Wallace State men’s coach John Meeks. “We’ve got to be prepared to fight again because I believe this year’s tournament is wide open. You can make cases for a lot of teams to win the championship.”
The Lions seek a four-day repeat this season. Wallace State (17-13) earned the North’s fifth seed after a 65-52 victory against Lawson State on Thursday night. The Lions’ first-round tournament opponent is Wallace-Selma, the South’s No. 4 seed, on Wednesday at 5 p.m. The teams split two previous December meetings, each winning by one point on the opponent’s home floor.
Freshman Jestin Lewis leads the Lions by pouring in 17 points per game, while sophomore forward Ryan King averages a conference-best 2.8 blocks.
Wallace State sophomore Jamalcolm Griffin was last year’s tournament MVP after scoring 22 points and hitting five 3’s in the title game against Shelton State. He averaged 14 points during the four-game tournament stretch, connecting on 11 3-pointers.
Sophomore counterparts King and Jacquise Moore were also part of the championship squad.
“Our three sophomores have had a major impact on our program the last two years, and they’re ready to defend the championship on their home court. You always want to make sure no one else is cutting down the nets in your gym,” Meeks said.