Sophomore point guard Nick Thompson scores late in the contest to help his squad to an 88-80 victory in the Region 18 finale.
CEU's Jonathan Mills was all smiles after the win over NIC.
A SWAC policy change at the end of last season allowed the College of Eastern Utah to host the conference tournament for the first time. The CEU men's team made sure it was a memorable one for the fans that came out in force to support their local team.
The Golden Eagles (22-9) are the NJCAA Region 18 champions after defeating number one seed Northern Idaho College, 88-80, on Saturday, March 6 at the B-DAC. It has been over 40 years since CEU held that title.
In front of the biggest home crowd of the year for CEU on Saturday night, nerves seemed to show as the Eagles got off to a slow start. NIC started off the scoring with a huge slam-dunk. Quickly down by eight, CEU found their stride as Chris Colimon hit a three-pointer to pull the team within two.
"We were struggling and NIC had a good rhythm going and then Chris Colimon hit the three point jump shot and even though there may have been other big plays on the night, I think that was our turning point," said CEU head coach Chris Craig.
Eastern Utah grabbed a six point lead by the half and never let it go. Midway through the half CEU was sitting on a 12 point cushion, but the top team in the SWAC, NIC, was not ready to roll over yet.
The Cardinals clawed their way back in and got within six as the clock ticked down. In the final minutes, NIC resorted to sending the Eagles to the foul line.
The Eagles did not fail to execute and extended their lead as they hit shot after shot from the charity stripe.The crowd poured onto the court to mob their team as the buzzer sounded.
CEU's Michael Glover was named both the tournament MVP and the conference MVP. Tony Daulton and Glover were named to the conference All-tournament team.
As he took a piece of the net for a souvineer, CEU's Fernando Defavari grinned and said, "Oh my, its good, it's so very good!"
Craig is already turned his sights to the next game. The team has to face Mesa College on Tuesday for the spot in the NJCAA tournament. He says that Mesa Community College plays a lot like SLCC and they are a well- coached and physical team.
Craig is hoping to prolong their run to the top as long as possible. He believes the last time a team from CEU won the SWAC Tournament was in the 1964-65 season. In 1996, the team had a share of the conference title, but lost in the tournament.
Craig wanted to tell the community how much his team valued the support they had over the tournament and that he feels like home crowd presence was key in helping them beat NIC for the title. He also went on to praise his team, saying, "I know I am hard to play for. I demand a lot and the kids deserve to win because they have been through a lot and worked hard for it. I demand every ounce of talent they have."
This win is about them, the players," he continued. "Going to class every day and then coming to practice and giving it their all. They came together as a team and especially our returning sophomores. Those kids lost that game last year and came back and worked harder and pulled everyone together.
"The post game celebration was as fun as the game," he added, "You only get a few of these moments in your lifetime. I could see the joy on our players faces and it was all worthwhile."
The club had gone into the tournament as the second seed after losing last weekend to NIC to finish regular season action in second place. That ranking gave the squad a first- round bye. The Golden Eagles faced off against Salt Lake Community College on Friday, March 5. Salt Lake had defeated Colorado Northwestern the day before to advance.
The two teams had split evenly in four match-ups during the regular season. Both squads were eager after a wait because the women's game that pitted NIC against CSI went into double-overtime before being decided.
The Eagles came out with confidence and quickly set the tone for the game with the first bucket. Up by as many as 11 in the half, the home team headed to the locker room with an eight-point edge.
CEU controlled the tempo of the game and kept the lead from start to finish. The Bruins made a few runs at the Eagles, pulling as close as three, several times. In the end, however, CEU maintained its focus and hit free shots when it counted and advance to the final game.
The Eagles will travel to Salt Lake Community College on Tuesday night to take on Mesa with a tip-off at 7:30 p.m.. Mesa is the Region 1 champ and the victor in this contest will compete in the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. and a shot at the national championship.