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Chipola Brings 'A' Game to Down Three Rivers

By Brad Hallier

The Hutchinson News

When Chipola, Fla., coach Greg Heiar was discussing with his team about going up against Three Rivers, Mo., and its legendary coach Gene Bess, one of Heiar's players mentioned he would need to perform at a high level.

"I mentioned I was chasing Bob Knight, and my assistant said, 'No you're not, you're chasing Coach Bess," Heiar said. "Then (a player) said, 'You'll need to bring you're 'A' game, too.'"

Everybody for Chipola was at his best in an NJCAA Tournament quarterfinal - players and coaches - as the Indians pulled away for a 78-59 win.

"Any time you play against a legend and a Hall of Famer, you know their kids will compete and you'll be in for a tough game," said Heiar, who, at 32 years old, is Bess' junior by 40 years and has about 900 fewer victories. "They played a heck of a game against us. They really defended us, but our kids executed."

Especially sophomore guard Jamarcus Ellis. Showing off his all-around game, Ellis made 7 of 12 shots and scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out five assists.

"He's what I call a stat-stuffer," Heiar said. "He scores, gets rebounds, steals, assists ... he's the most competitive kid I've coached in my career."

Ellis helped get the Indians (32-2) off to a blazing start by scoring the game's first four points, part of a game-opening 14-3 run that lasted for more than the first nine minutes.

"We kind of looked like a deer in the headlights early," Bess said. "But we came back and played well. Chipola did a good job when they had the lead, and they guarded us well.

"We usually will score in the 80s, but it was one of the games we never could get cranked offensively."

Three Rivers (26-10) did get some offense after falling behind early, and a good chunk of it came from freshman guard Michael Lance. The native of Poplar Bluff, Mo. - home of Three Rivers - scored nine of his game-high 20 points during a 24-9 run that gave the Raiders a 27-23 lead with 3:55 before halftime.

"We always find success working the post first," Lance said. "When we get it in there, it establishes the outside. Any time we're aggressive like that, it works out pretty well."

Just when Three Rivers had gotten all the momentum, Chipola snatched it back with a strong end to the first half. Three different Indians made a 3-pointer in a half-ending 11-1 run, giving them a 34-28 halftime lead.

"That group of freshmen - we had four freshmen and Ed (Berrios) - played the last few minutes and put a run, and it was all because we got defensive stops," Heiar said. "That group energized us at halftime."

Chipola, which plays Southern Idaho in the 6 p.m. semifinal on Friday, never trailed in the second half, and put the game away with a 10-1 run that ended with Michael Vogler's basket with 6:59 left for a 65-51 lead. Deandre Thomas scored the final of his 14 points in that run, and the 6-8, 290-pound center also had a game-high nine rebounds, helping the Indians to a 34-29 rebounding edge.

Berrios added 15 points.

The final result was a more lopsided win for Chipola than its first-round, 11-point win over Georgia Perimeter, but Ellis said it was a tougher game.

"Give Three Rivers a lot of credit because they didn't back down even though we were bigger," Ellis said. "We had never seen Three Rivers before, and you really have to credit them for what they did out there tonight."


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