A Tale of Two Halves
Ever since Chipola, Fla., handled Southwest Tennessee in the first round of the NJCAA Tournament, several people told coach Greg Heiar something he didn't want to hear.
After the impressive 11-point win, almost everyone was telling Heiar how his top-ranked Indians would blast Lamar, Colo., in Wednesday's quarterfinals.
While Chipola won 82-66 at the Sports Arena, Lamar certainly proved it was deserving of its place in the quarterfinals, too.
For almost the entire first half, the Runnin' Lopes (25-11) led Chipola and led by as many as six points.
"Everyone was saying, 'You're going to beat Lamar bad,'" Heiar said. "But like I said yesterday, anything can happen in Hutch, and a perfect example of that was the first half."
Lamar, without a glamorous record or the superstars Chipola (33-1) has, stood toe to toe with a team many consider to be the favorite to win the national championship. After falling behind 11-9, Lamar went on a 14-6 run, and the feeling around the Sports Arena was a sense of surprise.
When sophomore Ogo Adegoye swished a pair of free throws with 7 minutes, 33 seconds before halftime, the Runnin' Lopes led 23-17.
"First of all, I'm proud of these guys," Lamar coach Chris Tifft said. "We competed with them as well as anyone had all year, in the first half especially."
Heiar didn't think there was an elaborate reason or deeper meaning as to why his team struggled for most of the first half.
"They just wanted it more at the beginning of the game," said Heiar, who said the same thing to his team during a first-half timeout. "It wasn't like we didn't prepare. They just wanted it more, and when the other team wants it more, the coach gets the blame. It's the way I am. When the team plays well, the players get credit, and if they don't play well, the head coach gets the blame."
Chipola finally gathered some momentum at the end of the first half when sophomore guard Casey Mitchell - without a field goal up to that point - nailed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, giving Chipola a 33-32 lead.
"That was pretty big," freshman forward Jeremy Jacobs said. "Casey wasn't shooting that good, but he hit that 3 and we knew it was over."
Might have been a bit premature to think that, but the Indians certainly backed it up.
Within 3:22 of the second half, Chipola scored 11 points and led 44-32 after another 3-pointer from Mitchell, who led the Indians with 19 points.
"They carried the momentum of that 3-point shot at the end of the first half to the second half," Tifft said. "We held them to 33 points in the first half, and in the first six minutes of the second half, they scored 18, 19 points, and that was very uncharacteristic of our defense."
Lamar kept hanging around but couldn't make a serious second-half charge. The closest the Lopes got in the second half was nine points. Sophomore guard P.J. Reyes had 15 of his game-high 20 points after halftime.
Adegoye added 16 points and five assists for Lamar, which may have lost but at least probably gained some respect.
"I would think so, especially with our first half," Adegoye said. "We didn't come into the game thinking, 'Let's do our best.' We came into the game to compete, and we did that."