Chipola Sheds Stigma of Last Year's Early Exit
As great as last year's Chipola, Fla., team was, coach Greg Heiar knows it will be remembered more for the first-round NJCAA Tournament loss to Seward County.
Heiar reminded his top-ranked Indians that they, too, would be remembered for how they perform at the Sports Arena this week and not necessarily for the great regular season.
Tuesday was the first step toward a more memorable March for Chipola. Behind a smothering defense that held fourth-ranked Southwest Tennessee to 28 points under its season average, the Indians moved to the quarterfinals with an 81-70 win.
"Anything can happen in Hutch," Heiar said. "Our next challenge is in front of us, and we'll see what happens. This team is judged on their performances here in Hutch, and they want to win bad."
The Indians (32-1) showed almost immediately that they did not intend to fall in the first round again. After controlling the opening tip, Chipola moved down floor. The ball was tossed to the basket, and sophomore Torye Pelham slammed home a crowd-pleasing dunk and was fouled.
The tone had been set a mere 13 seconds into the game.
"You pick up everyone on dunks," said Pelham, who had 15 points, 10 rebounds and three other highlight dunks. "I try to do it as often as I can."
While Chipola breezed to a 22-7 lead less than 8 minutes into the game, Southwest Tennessee (25-2) never got its high-octane offense that averaged 98 points a game started.
The Saluqis ended up making 30.7 percent (23 of 75) from the field, including 7 of 30 from 3-point range. Even free throws were a struggle for a team that made 65 percent on the season as Southwest Tennessee made only 17 of 38.
"We honestly haven't shot that poorly in a game in five or six years," long-time Southwest Tennessee coach Verties Sails said after a chuckle when he was told his team's shooting stats. "When you get to the big stage, it takes a man to stand on the big stage. Sometimes, you're not man enough, and today, we weren't man enough. But a lot of that was because of Chipola."
Chipola shot well at 48.3 percent (28 of 58) but had problems with Southwest Tennessee's defense with 20 turnovers. Of those, 12 were Saluqi steals, but they had only 15 points off turnovers.
Southwest Tennessee's defense did allow it to get back in the game after the slow start. In the final 6:43 of the first half, Chipola scored just five points, and when Southwest Tennessee's James Justice sank a free throw with 1 second left, the Saluqis trailed 35-28.
Chipola then executed to perfection a final play to go up 37-28 at halftime. Jon Kreft - a 7-footer - heaved the ball the length of the court, and the ball deflected to a wide-open Casey Mitchell, who tossed in a layup at the buzzer for two of his game-high 21 points.
"The play at the end of the first half was a big play," Heiar said.
The Saluqis never got closer than seven points in the second half. With their shooting from the field and foul line off the mark, they were never able to sustain a run.
"They really got in our heads," said sophomore Joshua Watson, who led the Saluqis with 16 points. "Coach told us, 'Don't let them get in your heads.' But they did. It's what they do - they really got in our heads."
Tempers flared in the final 6 minutes. The first incident came with 5:40 left in the game when Southwest Tennessee's Jeremy Rodgers jumped out of bounds with the ball and threw it off Pelham's head. Then 38 seconds later, Chipola's Josh Sain and Southwest Tennessee's DeAngelo Riley were assessed technical fouls for jawing with each other.
Cooler heads prevailed after, and Chipola handed Southwest Tennessee its first loss since Nov. 1.