Press Release by Jim Howell:
Phoenix, Arizona – March 4, 2016 – In a game that featured two teams who were facing each other for the 6th time in the last 12 years in the championship round, the 2nd-seeded South Mountain Cougars defeated the top-seeded (and 16th-ranked) Phoenix College Bears, 74-71, in the Region I Division II Men’s Basketball Finals Friday night at “The Bears’ Den” on the PC campus. The win sends the Cougars to the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championships in Danville, Illinois, for the first time since 2012. The loss ends the Bears’ season, as well as PC’s three-year reign as Region I Champions.
While teams like surging Pima and Glendale gave strong cases to be in the Region I Finals, it was appropriate that both the Bears and Cougars made it to the championship round, since no other teams spent time at the top of the Division II side of the ACCAC Men’s Basketball Standings this season. And while the Bears remained in the #1 spot in Division II since early January, South Mountain was never out of the equation to possibly clinch homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs until the second-to-last game of the regular season. Friday night at PC, the Bears-who came into the contest sporting the 2nd-best defense in the conference-started the game willing to play the up-tempo style that South Mountain prefers, and it cost the Bears. The Cougars used an 8-0 run to take a 13-7 lead, and wouldn’t trail the rest of the half, leading by as many as 13 points (40-27). A three-pointer by PC’s Avonte Nelms (Arcadia HS) cut the halftime deficit to 10 points at 40-30, but Bears’ Head Men’s Basketball Coach (and ACCAC/Region I Coach of the Year) Matt Gordon knew that-for the second straight game-he’d need to make a lot of 2nd-half adjustments to be able to battle back.
Make adjustments, he did, and just like Wednesday night-when the Bears eradicated an eight-point halftime deficit to overcome Glendale in the Region I Semis-the Bears were the fresher team coming out of the halftime locker room. Their defense was much more effective, limiting SMCC to just two points in the first four minutes of play, and a pair of three-pointers by Russ Davis (Corona Del Sol HS)-one to tie the game at 44-44 with 13:55 left; and the second to give the Bears their only lead of the 2nd half at 47-46-would momentarily swing the momentum to the home team. However, the Bears wouldn’t lead again, although the Cougars never held a lead larger than 6 points after that. That six-point lead would happen with 1:06 left in regulation-thanks to a three-pointer by SMCC’s Terrence Johnson to give the Cougars a 72-66 lead. The Bears’ Kevin ‘K.J.’ Davis (Westview HS) took the ball the length of the floor on the ensuing possession, converting a three-point play on a layup and free throw to cut the deficit back to three. After SM’s Desmond Johnson made one of two free throws, and PC’s Johnathan Matthews’ layin would cut the Cougars’ lead to 2 points at 73-71, the Bears fouled Johnson once again to send him to the line with :30.9 left. Johnson would again make only one of his two attempts, leaving the door open for PC to tie. However, the Bears struggled to find an open shooter in the final possession, and the three-point attempt by Kaveon Moore (Independence HS) hit the front of the rim with :06 left, and the Bears wouldn’t touch the ball again as the Cougars ran out the final seconds.
Connor MacDougall led four different South Mountain (20-12 overall, 14-8 ACCAC) players in double figures, posting his second straight double-double of the playoffs with 22 points and 15 rebounds, and earning Region I Finals Most Valuable Player honors in the process. The Bears, whose season ends with a 24-8 overall record and 16-6 mark in ACCAC play-were led by 18 points from Brandon Tuggle (Westwind Prep), and 15 from Davis-all from 3-point range.