HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State’s basketball teams have both enjoyed outstanding seasons, marking the best collective campaign in the college’s history by each winning an Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) North Division championship.
It’s now time to turn their attention to the postseason as both teams host the ACCC/Region 22 tournament beginning with the women’s field Sunday at Tom Drake Coliseum.
“Both teams having so much success this season says a lot about where we’re at athletically as an institution. Dr. (Vicki) Karolewics takes pride in wanting to put a good product on the floor, and I think her commitment to athletics has helped us get to this point,” said Wallace State men’s coach John Meeks. “It’s exciting that both teams are No. 1 seeds. Few schools can say they’ve done that together in the same year. It’s very rare.”
Each ACCC/Region 22 tournament is a four-day event. Women’s action begins Sunday at 1 p.m., the first of four games scheduled that day. The women’s championship game is scheduled for Wednesday, March 5 at 7 p.m.
The men’s tournament begins Wednesday, March 5 at 11 a.m. and culminates with the championship game set for Saturday, March 8 at 5 p.m.
Wallace State’s extensive success this season has garnered both teams a No. 1 seed and a bye. The Lady Lions open play Monday at 7 p.m. against the L.B. Wallace-Lawson State winner.
Wallace State’s women enter with an impressive 26-4 record, winning 12 of 13 games. The Lady Lions are a perfect 13-0 at home and finished 9-1 in the conference after an 82-54 victory at Snead State Thursday night. Jasmine Coleman finished with 18 points and eight rebounds and Haven Albright scored 13 points off the bench during the regular-season finale.
“We’ve had a great season. It’s been just been incredible. Now, I hope we can finish the deal. We want to culminate an unbelievable season with a state tournament championship. We’ll throw it up Monday night and see what happens,” said Wallace State third-year coach Ron Burdette, who is 71-23 with the Lady Lions. “Obviously playing on our home court has to be an advantage. We are a very confident team entering the tournament. I have a group of hard workers. We had one setback on the road last week (at Gadsden State), and I think it did us good. It was a gut check. We’re refocused now and looking to survive and advance for three more games.”
Wallace State’s women have tortured opponents with a balanced attack. The Lady Lions top five scorers average between 11.5 and 7.4 points per game. Freshman Morgan Smith, a Cullman grad, leads the team by pouring in 11.5 per game. Morgan Pearson averages 11, Coleman scores 9.6 and grabs a team-high 7.2 boards per game, Jaylan Snowden averages 8.5 and Brandee Busenlehner, the conference’s top 3-point shooter, averages 7.4 points.
The Lady Lions also receive solid scoring contributions off the bench from Albright, BreAnna Thompson and Ashley Rodgers.
“Each player on our team has accepted their responsibility all season. One night we’ll have a couple people carry us, and it’s two new ones the next. It’s about finding the right combination each game. There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Burdette said. “We have no jealousy on the team and no drama. The bottom line is every person wants to win.”
Wallace State’s women last won a tournament championship in 2011 when the Lady Lions won four games in four days as a No. 3 seed in coach Larry Slater’s final season.
Wallace State and Shelton State have met in the women’s championship game the past three seasons. The Lady Lions swept Shelton State this season in the regular-season meetings, beating the No. 15 Lady Bucs by one at home and five on the road.
Top-seeded Wallace State men
Wallace State’s men clinched their division championship Thursday night with a 68-65 victory at Snead State, capping off a fantastic regular season and earning the top seed for the Lions for the first time since 2007-08.
“Our guys didn’t want to share the championship. We wanted it outright. We did what we needed to do. The cards have been stacked against us lately with injuries and the sort, but our guys have stepped up in order for us to continue to be successful,” said Meeks, who’s in his fourth year with the team. “We had to play five of the last seven on the road and three games in five days, but our will to win was always there. It was not an easy stretch. To step up and win in those situations was a true testament to our level of focus of really wanting to win it.”
Wallace State closed the regular season at 24-6 overall, finishing 10-2 in the conference.
The Lions knew in November their success this season very likely hinged on a guard trio in the backcourt. No one has disappointed.
Sophomore Jestin Lewis pours in 18.3 points per game, good for fifth in the conference. Lee Moore, a Georgia native, averages 17.6 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds and point guard Marcus Johnson scores 14.8.
One of those three has been the leading scorer in all but one game and a main reason why Wallace State reeled off 14 straight wins from Dec. 19 to Feb. 13.
“Those guys have obviously stepped up. Jestin and Marcus are seasoned guys and they understand the importance of the conference schedule and how each night is a new championship. They now have to elevate their game even more to make sure we have a chance to cut down the nets on our home court,” Meeks said.
Pinson native Cody Farley has solidified the post for the Lions, averaging 7.6 points and 5.2 rebounds. Transfer sophomores X-keem Jones and Marcus Burwell have provided essential minutes as well, especially on the defensive end.
“This group we have really loves each other. They are brothers. It’s a tight-knit group with hardly any dissension. They do what they need to do in order to win. Our practices have been better the last month because of that and so has our focus,” Meeks said.
Wallace State’s opening game in the tournament is Thursday at 7 p.m. against either Bishop State or Marion Military.
The Lions are familiar with recent postseason success, winning the 2010 state tournament title in coach Allen Sharpe’s last season and again under Meeks in 2012 when Wallace State made a magical run by winning four games in four days as a No. 6 seed. Until 2010, no Wallace State men’s team had won a state title or advanced to the national tournament.
Wallace State and Shelton State have swapped men’s tournament championships each season since 2010.
General admission to the tournament is $7 daily or $25 for a weekly pass. Children under the age of 6 and Wallace State students are admitted free. Senior citizen tickets are $5.
“We’re excited about hosting the tournament for the second consecutive year. We enjoyed hosting the tournament last year, and 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.”
Tournament brackets and information can be accessed at wallacestate.edu/accctourney or at acccathletics.com.
For more information about Wallace State athletics, visit wallacestate.edu.
Wallace State Community College
P.O. Box 2000, Hanceville, AL 35077
1-866-350-9722 256-352-8443 direct
Visit us online at www.wallacestate.edu