In a year of first-place dreams, the College of Southern Idaho men’s basketball team was handed a couple of tight second-place losses instead.
The first came against Salt Lake Community College on a late 3-pointer in the Scenic West Athletic Conference title game. The second, more painful loss came on Saturday night against 13th-seeded South Plains College in the NJCAA Division I title game, 98-95.
It wasn’t a last-second shot or a big defensive stop that sank the 10th-seeded Golden Eagles in the end. Rather, it was a culmination of missed shots and defensive struggles against a shifty, athletic South Plains team.
“They’re just a really good team,” CSI coach Jared Phay said. “They’re playing really well. They were able to hurt us in multiple ways.”
The South Plains scorers went off one at a time in the first half, started off by Christopher Orlina’s driving and foul-drawing that helped him score 11 first-half points.
Then, Deshawn Coprew’s 11 points came. Toward the end of Corprew’s scoring stretch, Ben Perez fired off back-to-back 3-pointers before sitting with his second personal foul.
And down the stretch, it was Isaiah Maurice who gave the CSI posts, especially Tomas Domingos, a hard time. Maurice posted 11 points in the first half with a couple of dunks in the mix.
Phay was not impressed by his team’s defensive effort in the first half, especially when it gave up four offensive rebounds in the first six minutes that led to seven points. The Golden Eagles were playing without sophomore big man Roche Grootfaam, who suffered a knee injury in Monday’s first-round game.
Phay said South Plains’ talent level showed on offense.
Maurice was exceptional in both halves, scoring 20 points and drawing the defenders with his ability to get in the paint, setting up other shooters.
“He’s just a really good player,” Phay said. “Maybe we could’ve used Roche there a little bit, but they just had too many weapons.”
CSI’s career 3-points leader, Jake Hendricks, went 0-for-8 from deep in the game, including a few that hit the side of the backboard.
But there were a couple of CSI players who stepped up big to keep the game within reach.
Charles Jones Jr. had 13 points in the first half and 14 in the second to score a game-high 27, and he went 7-for-12 from 3-point range.
Toward the end of the first half, the Texans’ defenders played tighter on him, and Phay worried that after a long week, the hours of play might have affected him.
“He’s played so hard all week, and maybe got worn down just a little bit, but a great effort from him,” Phay said.
But Jones Jr. said the defense was giving him looks, but he and his teammates weren’t executing.
“We were just missing shots,” he said. “That was the big thing.”
The poor shooting showed the most in the second half, when, after CSI took the lead, everything was off. For a five-minute stretch, the Golden Eagles didn’t make a field goal, even though they came out of the drought down only 83-77.
There were a couple Golden Eagles who had the hot hand for a while, though.
Freshman Khalid Thomas hit some big shots, including a couple of 3-pointers in the second half to break up a couple of South Plains runs. He ended the game with 20 points, seven rebounds and four steals.
“We needed someone to step up offensively, and he also got some rebounds for us,” Phay said.
One of the biggest contributors to hanging in late in the game was Telly Davenport, who grabbed eight rebounds – the most of any CSI player – in addition to his seven points.
Phay said Davenport’s performance was indicative of how dedicated players deeper on the bench are to winning every game.
“Telly was really good tonight,” Phay said. “He really competed. Of course, you want to win, but all I can ask for is that we compete, and he did.”
Down five points in the final minute, the Golden Eagles hit some shots to force the Texans’ hands at the free-throw line. Jones Jr. hit a late 3 to cut the deficit to three points, but CSI’s defense didn’t get set for a steal. Keith McGee easily caught the inbound pass and went to the line, but missed both shots.
With only a second on the clock, all Jake Hendricks could do off the rebound was throw a one-handed dart and pray it went in.
It didn’t, and just like that, CSI’s title quest was over.