By Montgomery Gardner
By Montgomery Gardner
The Riverside Community College men’s basketball team faced off against San Bernardino Valley community College’s first seeded Wolverines Feb. 26. Coming off a first-round win over Santa Ana, the Tigers were ready to give the Wolverines a fight.
“It’s all about preparation,” said head coach John Smith. SBVCC began the game with a tenacious full-court defensive press. The Tigers had a hard time in the first minutes of the game, but quick ball movement began to overcome the Wolverines’ press. A technical foul on the Tigers’ star Trayvon Williams gave the Wolverines an early advantage, but six minutes into the game, the Tigers led 17-9.
RCC forward Jacob Hill stepped up in the first quarter of play, posting 12 of the Tigers’ 24 points in the first 10 minutes. Both Hill and Smith spent last season on the San Bernardino Valley team, coming to RCC just last year.
“Jacob is used to the environment here (at San Bernardino) because this is home for him,” Smith said. Successfully breaking the Wolverines’ press, the Tigers led 26-15 after 12 minutes of play. An intentional foul called on RCC guard Michael Mitchell began a 6 minute Wolverine scoring run when the Tigers were out-scored 18-7. The game was tied at 33-33 with just over two minutes remaining in the half.
Mounting foul trouble for the Tigers gave the Wolverines a four point lead with one minute remaining, followed by a last second 3-pointer by San Bernardino Valley’s forward Rummel Clark. The halftime score was 42-35 in favor of the Wolverines. RCC began the second half with a slam dunk from the baseline, courtesy of Willliams. Despite tightened defense, the Wolverines continued to build its lead in the third quarter. With 10 minutes left on the clock, RCC opponents had their largest lead of the game, 58-46.
With the situation growing desperate, Smith called a time out to give the Tigers a change in strategy. Thereafter, the Tigers began to effectively cut to the basket, turning the tables on the Wolverines.
With seven minutes remaining, the Tigers had cut the lead down to 10 points, 52-62, and were building momentum on both sides of the court. A minute later guard Michael Mitchell grabbed a steal at midcourt and took the ball to the basket to further cut into the Wolverines’ lead.
In the final five minutes, the game became an emotional roller coaster as the Tigers successfully broke the Wolverines’ lead to just five points, 58-63. With three and a half minutes left, the Tigers took their last 30 second time out after trading baskets with the Wolverines to make the score 60-65.
On the next possession, RCC center Armando Cosio penetrated the key for a layup and was fouled. One clutch free throw later, the Tigers had succeeded in cutting the Wolverines’ lead to two points, 63-65.
A missed layup on the Wolverines’ next possession resulted in a technical foul, giving the Tigers their chance to tie the game. RCC guard E.J. Ollison sank both free throws, sending fans on both sides into a screaming frenzy.
After a scrappy steal and layup by Williams, forward Shamont Brown was fouled in the paint. With a minute and 45 seconds left, RCC led the game 67-65. Brown’s first shot found the bottom of the net. The second free throw bounced high off the back of the rim and Brown recovered his own rebound just outside the key on the left. He faked right, spun left, and sank a gracefully executed layup to increase RCC’s lead to five, 70-65.
A key layup reduced the Tigers’ lead to three, and Wolverines coach Phil Matthews called a time out. RCC pushed the ball down court on its next possession where a textbook pick from Cosio gave Hill an open layup. With 35 seconds remaining, Wolverines star guard Aaron Nixon nailed an off-balance 3-pointer and cut the Tigers’ lead to two, 72-70. Nixon intercepted a bad inbounds pass and made a short jump-shot despite being fouled. With 23 seconds left, the Tigers lost their lead and trailed 74-75.
RCC had one final possession but was unable to score. The Wolverines rebounded the ball and put a final two points on the board due to a last second foul. The final score was 77-74, Wolverines. Despite the disappointing end to their season, the Tigers held their heads high as they went to the locker room. It was a long road to the end of the season for this team of newcomers. Smith summed it up.
“The season is a process, a journey,” he said. “As a team we came together late and learned to win.”