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Woodson, Bobcats make history with five game “March Madness” run

ELLISVILLE — Over the past week, the basketball team at Jones County Junior College gave new meaning to the annual term “March Madness”.

And a local product was a key factor in that process.

The Bobcats captured the Division I junior college national championship Saturday night, with an 87-77 win over Indian Hills (Iowa) in Hutchinson, Kan. It marks the first time ever that a team from Mississippi has won the national juco title on the hardwood.

Former Pearl River Central standout Ashton Woodson scored eight crucial points down the stretch, including giving JCJC the lead for good with a short jump shot with just over eight minutes to play in the game against Indian Hills, which was the top-ranked team in the country.

The Bobcats, who end the year at 28-5 (a school record for wins in a season), entered the tournament as the 11th seed and promptly became the lowest seeded school to win an NJCAA basketball title in any division. JCJC became the first ever school to win five games in five days to win the championship. The tournament format changed last year, expanding from 16 to 24 teams.

And the Bobcats certainly did not go through the back door to capture the championship.

They defeated No. 22 seed Highland College (Ill.) a week ago, and No. 6 seed Hill College (Texas) on Wednesday. In succession, the Bobcats then beat No.3 seed Chipola College (Fla.) on Thursday, No. 2 seed Vincennes College (Ind.) Friday night and then No. 1 seed and top-ranked  Indian Hills Saturday night..

Woodson’s jumper with just over eight minutes to play gave the Bobcats a lead they would never relinquish. His lay-up with 30 seconds to play sealed the historic win for Jones. He finished the title tilt with eight points, four assists, three steals and three rebounds.

“It feels great to win a national championship,” Woodson said Sunday afternoon, as the Bobcats returned home to an awaiting celebratory crowd on campus. “Nobody thought we could do it, we were the underdogs. But we just did what coach (Jay) Ladner told us to do, and we believed in ourselves. He is a great coach.”

Woodson is just a freshman, but wasted no time in making his mark on the Bobcat hoops program. He tallied a season high 18 points twice this season, including once in a win over Pearl River CC.

“It’s a lot different on this level, and I didn’t really know what to expect when I first got here,” Woodson added. “But Coach Ladner just told me to play like I did in high school, and after that things just started happening for me.”

Just a little over a year ago, Woodson was the leading scorer on a Blue Devil team that beat arch-rival Picayune in Picayune for the first time in history. That win also qualified the PRC boys team for their first ever state playoff berth in school history.

And now, he has earned a national championship ring. “To be able to bring a national championship back home is really something special,” Woodson concluded.

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