Stunner: Saints Rise About Chipola
March 18, 2008
By Brad Hallier (The Hutchinson News)
Seward County coach Bryan Zollinger knew his team could beat Chipola, Fla. But Zollinger also knew few people had the same belief.
As Zollinger was talking to the Saints prior to Tuesday's first-round NJCAA Tournament game at the Sports Arena against the tournament's prohibitive favorite, he wrote a suggested headline for newspapers to use after the game.
"Seward County shocks Chipola."
Seward County 90, Chipola 84 in overtime.
It was one of the more stunning first-round upsets the NJCAA Tournament has seen in years. But Zollinger and his players - who relished the underdog role late in the Region 6 championship game against Cowley despite being Jayhawk West champions - weren't as stunned as many people at the Sports Arena likely were.
"It was a shock to everyone that picked them, but not to us," said Zollinger, whose first year at Seward County coach continues to get better. "I believe in them, and they believe in each other."
There were reasons few thought unranked Seward County (30-5) had much of a chance against Chipola. Last year's runner-up, the Indians boast plenty of Division I talent, including future Kansas Jayhawk Mario Little - who had 13 points - and future Wichita State player Clevin Hannah, who had 15 points.
Chipola was ranked No. 1 for most of the year before entering the tournament No. 2. It also had come out of District 8, which had produced the last two runners-up and is generally one of the NJCAA's top districts.
But Seward County, which beat Jayhawk East champion Cowley in the Region 6 final, was unfazed by Chipola.
"In the locker room before the game, we just said we had to do what we do," said sophomore forward Darko Cohadarevic, who had 22 points, including six in overtime. "We just had to prove we are a team. That's what we have when other things go bad."
Like in the first half, when Cohadarevic - the Region 6 Most Valuable Player - picked up his second foul with 2 minutes, 3 seconds left. Even though the Saints fell behind 37-27 at the time and Cohadarevic was relegated to the bench, they scored the half's final six points and trailed by four.
Then Seward County started the second half with a 7-2 run. When Cohadarevic sank a 3-pointer with 17:11 left, the Saints had their first lead at 40-39. It was the first of 18 lead changes as the teams traded points for most of the half.
Seward County did most of its scoring at the free-throw line, making 40 of 49. Freshman guard Reggie Chamberlain was nearly automatic, making 18 of 19 and finishing with a game-high 30 points.
In the last 9:03 of regulation, the Saints scored all but two of their 14 points from the foul line.
"Unbelievable," Zollinger said. "I know these guys get tired of it, but we do a drill in practice where we have to make three in a row ... and if you don't make a certain number, you run."
Chipola seemed finished after Chamberlain hit two free throws with 21.4 seconds left for a 70-66 Seward County lead. But the Indians got two free throws from Hannah with 19.1 seconds left, and after a Nick Burns free throw for the Saints made it 71-68, Hannah drilled a 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds, tying the game.
A last-second shot by Bruno Mendes missed, and the game headed to overtime.
"We told everyone to stay up and play hard," said Chipola forward Casey Mitchell, who had 14 points. "It wasn't over, but we said to come together and play as a team."
The Saints weren't worried despite playing just seven players to Chipola's 11 and blowing the four-point lead.
"Not at all," Cohadarevic said when asked if the Saints were concerned before overtime. "We knew we would win this game. (Going to overtime) was nothing."
Chipola scored four seconds into overtime on Vernon Teel's layup, two of his team-leading 16 points.
Then the Saints responded with 10 straight points - six from Cohadarevic and four from Chamberlain - for their longest run of the game, and Chipola wasn't closer than five points the rest of the game.
"I want to give Seward a lot of credit," Chipola coach Greg Heiar said. "You've got to give Darko and Reggie a heck of a lot of credit. They played very well. They played better, but our kids deserve a lot of credit too to not lose their poise."
After Chipola's last basket and timeout with 1.6 seconds left, realization set in on the Saints. Mendes flashed a smile, Chamberlain held up his index finger and Cohadarevic ran to the bench pumping his fist. The clock then expired, and sophomore guard Josh Wilcox ran to Cohadarevic and leaped into his arms.
The upset was complete, and Saints could start preparing for a day off today and Thursday's quarterfinal against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Chipola will play Shelton State, Ala., in a consolation game Thursday.
"It was big," Chamberlain said. "We were the underdogs to everyone, but we knew we could do it."