Panola College makes first trip to big dance since '79
Two of the hottest teams in the nation will battle today to open play at the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
Panola College, making its first trip to the big dance since 1979, will face Shelton State at 2 p.m. at the Hutchinson Sports Arena in Hutchinson, Kansas.
The winner moves on to face South Plains at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Panola is 25-8 on the season, earning an at-large bid from Region XIV after falling to San Jacinto (92-67) in the conference tournament championship game. The Ponies lost on Jan. 25 to Trinity Valley, but closed out the regular season with 10 straight wins — including two in overtime — before defeating Paris (81-64) and Angelina (82-65) to reach the title game.
The Ponies average 82.7 points per game, led by sophomores Devyn Wilson (13.3), Tope Arikawe (11.6) and Eric McGill (11.4) and freshman Marlon Taylor (10.9). Arikawe leads the team with 8.5 rebounds per contest, while Taylor adds 7.4 boards per outing. McGill dishes out a team-leading 5.5 assists per game to go along with a couple of steals.
Panola earned regional championships in 1984 and 2003, and the Ponies' trip to the regional tournament this season was the program's first since 2011 and 16th overall.
Shelton State (27-5) averages 79.3 points per game, led by Tra'Quan Knight's 15.2 points per outing.
Shelton State has won 10 in a row heading into the national tournament, winning the Alabama Community College Conference tournament championship with victories over Chattahoochee Valley (62-49), Snead State (71-66) and Alabama Southern (105-88).
The NJCAA national tournament continues through Saturday. All tournament games will air live on NJCAA TV (www.njcaatv.com).
Follow Jack Stallard on Twitter: @lnjsports