The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Sports

March 24, 2012

Knights pull off OT win

DANVILLE — With 43 seconds remaining in regulation of Friday’s NJCAA Division II national tournament semifinal, South Suburban College coach John Pigatti called a time out. The Community College of Rhode Island Knights had just taken a 71-69 lead after the Bulldogs led for much of the game — including a 16-point advantage just over eight minutes into the second half.

During the time out, “Roller Coaster” by Red Hot Chili Peppers was pumped through the speakers at Mary Miller Gymnasium. It was a fitting tribute to the wild affair that saw the Knights make an improbable comeback to not only force overtime, but pull out an 83-78 win to advance to the program’s first Division II national title game.

Prior to this year’s Sweet 16 appearance, the Knights were 0-6 in Division II national tournament play.

“I got us back,” CC Rhode Island coach Rick Harris said. “What are we now? We’re 3-6, so we’re making some headway. It’s exciting because this place is special.”

And it took a special performance by CC Rhode Island freshman Desmond Williams to not only keep the Knights within striking distance, but push them to a win.

Williams — whose brother is former Maryland Terrapin and current New Jersey Net Jordan Williams — scored a career high 41 points and had nine steals in the win. But the 6-foot-5 guard didn’t score all of his points on layups or jumpers.

He made 23 of his 26 free throw attempts including a stretch in which he drained 20 in a row. The NJCAA record is 25 consecutive makes set by Casey Mitchell from Chipola College (Fla.) in 2009.

“These playoff games, they’re all decided at the foul line,” Harris said. “I talked about that with the kids all season. We did our free throw practice today. It’s the 71st practice of the year and we’re still shooting competitive free throws. One-and-ones. If you miss it you do five push-ups.”

Williams hasn’t likely done many push-ups lately, and his 14 trips to the free throw line had the Bulldogs searching for answers. His nine steals also had South Suburban frustrated during a four-minute stretch that saw the Knights go on a 15-0 run, and the Bulldogs surrender a lead that appeared have their ticket punched to tonight’s title game.

“The worst thing was not being able to execute the press break that we’ve been executing all year,” Pigatti said. “We have teams in our region that press 10 times better than that. We just couldn’t do it. We panicked, and they played harder.

“Their good players were tougher than our good players, and that was the bottom line. Their All-Region guy stole the ball from our All-Region guy a couple times. They were just tougher than us.”

Steven Bevilacqua came off the bench to make his only two shot attempts of the game on three-point attempts, and Williams went on to score 11 points during the run. Harris credited a press that he learned early in his coaching career.

“Our Rick Pitino press, our 1-2-1-1.” Harris said. “Thank God I saved those tapes back from 1991 when I was a rookie coach. I have that engrained in my mind. We usually use a 1-3-1. But the 1-2-1-1 saved us. It gets the adrenaline going, but it can backfire, too. It’s a gamble press. If the other team gets out of it quick they can get a two-on-one out of it quick.”

There were seven lead changes and three ties in the final five minutes and overtime. Williams scored eight of the Knights’ 12 points in overtime.

Trevor Maybry, Rogerio Livramento (11 rebounds) and Isaac Medeiros (seven rebounds) each scored 11 for CC Rhode Island. Five players for South Suburban reached double figures including Sultan Muhammed (18 points, 11 rebounds), Marcus Lewis (16 points), Keenan Williams (11 points), Michael Harris (11 points), and Bryce Walker (10 points).

All five of Muhammad’s field goals came on threes including makes on four of his first six shot attempts of the game.

South Suburban will play tonight at 5:30 p.m. against Lakeland College in an attempt to salvage a third-place finish. CC Rhode Island will face three-time champion Mott Community College in the 7:30 p.m. title game.

The Knights know they will have a tough task against the Bears, but hope the momentum from Friday’s come-from-behind win will carry over to tonight’s championship game.

“Coach said from the beginning to stay in it,” Williams said. “South Suburban, they’re a great team. I give all the credit in the world to them. They held me down in the first half. They were playing great defense on me. But our team stepped up. We just played with heart.

“That’s the first time we have trailed by that much during the year. I just love my team. I’m speechless right now.”

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Check out the action at the NJCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament March 18-22 at DACC. Buy photos from the Commercial-News here: http://smu.gs/1iCWKnP

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