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Salt Lake Defeats Chipola in Tournament Classic

hutchnews.com

 

First, they had to overcome one of the greatest scoring halves by an individual in the history of the NJCAA Tournament.

Then, they had to wipe out a five-point deficit in the final 41/2 minutes against arguably the most talented junior college basketball team in the country.

The Bruins of Salt Lake Community College found a way to overcome both obstacles Friday night with a 78-73 victory over No. 1-ranked Chipola, Fla., at the Sports Arena.

The epic victory in the tournament semifinals - played in front of crowd estimated at nearly 5,000 - boosted the 13th-ranked Bruins (30-6) into the national championship game for the second straight year.

And, just like a year ago, Salt Lake will face a Texas team in tonight's 8 p.m. finals. This time it will be the sixth-ranked Midland Chaparrals, an impressive 75-56 winner over Connors State, Okla., in the second semifinal game Friday night.

A year ago, the Bruins fell to South Plains, Texas, in the title game.

"It's definitely a dream come true," said Salt Lake's 6-8 sophomore Nate Bendall, who scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half on 7-of-9 shooting. "When you're young, you're always looking to go to any sort of championship, and this is a dream come true for me and, I'm sure, for our whole team."

This was easily the best game of the tournament and possibly the best semifinal since 2002, according to tournament historians. Each team had their moments; both were led by great individual performances, but it was the Bruins who were left standing.

"It was a hell of a basketball game, and you have to give Salt Lake credit," said Chipola head coach Greg Heiar, whose team lost for just the second time in 35 games. "Their big three came to play. That was our scouting report, to guard (No.) 33 (Bendall), 44 (D.J. Wright) and 12 (Dathan Lyles), and they had 34, 20 and 16 (points) in the game. So, you have to give their kids credit."

But Chipola (33-2) also had 6-foot-5 sophomore Casey Mitchell, who almost single-handedly destroyed Salt Lake's hopes in this game. Mitchell scored an amazing 28 points in the first half on 10-of-14 shooting.

Mitchell, who finished with a game-high 38 points, blistered the Bruins with 14 points in the final 4:18 of the first half, leading a sizzling 18-4 run that gave the Floridians a 36-33 lead at halftime.

"I saw that some of our other guys came out a little slow, and I just tried to put us back in the game," said Mitchell, who finished the game hitting 13 of 24 shots. "I tried to play as hard as I could."

The problem for Chipola is that Salt Lake had more than just Wright putting up big offensive numbers. Wright, a 6-7 freshman, finished with 34 points (12-of-18 shooting) and 14 rebounds, but Bendall scored 20, and Lyles, who was helped off the court in the first half with a sprained ankle, played 20 minutes of inspirational basketball in the second half and finished with 16 points.

"We knew we had to come out and play with heart," Bendall said. "There was a stretch in the second half where we were trading baskets and no one was getting stops. When it all came down to it, we just had to play with heart, and my hat's off to Dathan Lyles."

"I've got to say that, too," Wright added. "He inspired us."

Wright's play was inspiring as well.

"D.J., geez, the numbers speak for themselves," said Salt Lake coach Norm Parrish. "Like I said yesterday and the day before, he's just a really tough match-up, and when he plays hard, on both sides, he's as good as they come."

The Bruins needed Wright, Bendall and everyone wearing blue for this one. Chipola opened the second half with two baskets to open up a six-point lead, but then it was Salt Lake's turn to go on a 19-5 run to grab a 52-44 lead with 11:45 remaining.

But back came the Indians with a 15-5 run of their own to take a 59-57 lead with 8:32 remaining after three free throws by Mitchell. Chipola led by five points (67-62) with 4:48 remaining when the well went dry.

The Indians failed to score for the next 41/2 minutes, and Salt Lake seized control by scoring 12 unanswered points. Wright had eight points during the run, and despite Torye Pelham's two late 3-pointers, Chipola was unable to get things to a one-possession game in the final minute.

"This was the first game all year where in the last three minutes, we didn't execute," Heiar said. "We were in the bonus, and we continued to settle for jump shots. We missed jumpers in that 12-0 run, and that was the difference in the game.

"But I'll tell you what, if you're a fan of the game, this was a phenomenal college game for junior college basketball. It was high-level play after high-level play. It was a great game."

The Bruins, getting layup after layup from their set offense, shot nearly 60 percent in the second half and 51.8 percent for the game, while Chipola cooled off to 36 percent in the second half. Pelham scored all 16 of his points in the final 20 minutes.
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