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WILMINGTON—The pained expression on coach Walter Shaw’s face and the red eyes of his players told the story of the Carolinas Junior College Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament championship game.
The Brunswick Community College Dolphins led by 16 points in the first half and 10 in the second but couldn’t hold off scrappy Aiken (S.C.) Technical College in Sunday’s finale.
The Knights scored the final seven points of the game—holding the Dolphins scoreless in the final 2:50—and captured their second consecutive conference championship, 80-77.
Slumped in a metal chair and clutching a runner-up trophy he did not want, Shaw tried to put some perspective on what was surely the most devastating loss of his coaching career.
“They’ve been where we’re trying to go and they knew what to do at the end and we made some mistakes that we shouldn’t have made,” Shaw said.
“We knew it was going to be a slugfest. It was going to be who made the mistake and we made the mistake.”
Both teams made mistakes throughout the game at Cape Fear Community College’s Schwartz Center, but it was the Dolphins’ inability to get the ball inbounds in the final seconds that ultimately sealed their fate.
After Aiken Tech tied the score on a free throw with 19.4 seconds left, BCC called two timeouts but never got the ball past mid-court against the Knights’ defensive pressure.
Aiken Tech’s Greg Thomas stole an inbounds pass and made three foul shots in the final 4.5 seconds to extend the Knights’ season and deal BCC a crushing defeat that left many players in tears.
On the other bench, Aiken Tech players and coaches celebrated, cut down the nets and looked forward to a March 8 district playoff game against Georgia Perimeter College and a possible trip to the National Junior College Athletic Association Championships in Hutchinson, Kan.
Aiken Tech coach Bruce Capers said the conference championship was a product of experience and resilience.
“This team had been put in a lot of adversity. It’s back-to-back, but this one is more important because of what these guys go through that you guys would never know,” Capers said.
Guard Gabriel Robinson scored a game-high 23 points and forward Terrance Washington had 14 points and 17 rebounds to lead the Knights (28-5). Lance James, Denorio Quinn and Thomas added 10 points each.
BCC freshman forward Myles Holley posted team highs with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Freshman guard Richard Shepherd added 13 points and eight rebounds and sophomore center Josh Jones had 12 points and six rebounds for the Dolphins (28-5).
The championship game pitted the top seed from the conference’s North and South divisions. BCC had defeated Aiken Tech 107-105 in overtime in their only regular-season meeting.
The game couldn’t have started any better for the Dolphins. They scored the first seven points and led 16-3 before Capers called the second of three first-half timeouts at the 13:23 mark.
Capers called his third timeout after BCC took its biggest lead of the game at 24-8 with a little more than 10 minutes remaining in the first half.
“I wasn’t too worried. I just wanted them to get going,” Capers said.
“They are a very good team. They’re probably the most talented team in our league. One of our keys was we couldn’t let them get hot with the three-ball. I thought we did that early.
“The other key was we had to box out and we didn’t do that. They killed us with second-chance shots and that’s what happened with the lead. On top of that we responded by taking quick shots on the offensive end instead of executing our offense.”
Even as the Dolphins built their double-digit lead, they were getting into foul trouble. Eight players picked up two fouls apiece in the first half.
Starting point guard Montel Smith played just 1:31 before going to the bench. Starting guards C.J. Hailey and Shepherd, backup guards Montarrio Haddock, Travis Foster and Drew Jackson and starting forwards Leon Spencer and Holley also had two fouls each.
Aiken Tech took advantage in the final 10 minutes of the half. The Knights put together a 10-0 run to cut BCC’s lead to 25-20 at the 7:38 mark, then closed the half with a 7-1 spurt to make it 41-40.
Under the circumstances, with so many of its leaders in foul trouble, Shaw said BCC was fortunate to stay close in the first half.
“Luckily, we’re deep and that allowed us to keep it close,” he said. “In a normal circumstance most teams would have been put away because of that.”
Aiken Tech hit its first three shots of the second half to take a 47-42 lead, but Holley, Shepherd and Jones each had multiple baskets as BCC responded with an 18-3 run during the next four minutes.
The Knights trailed 62-52 before scoring eight unanswered points as part of a 16-4 run. Quinn scored eight quick points to help Aiken Tech take a 68-66 lead with 7:29 remaining.
Hailey had a steal and layup at the 5:13 mark and hit a baseline jumper 25 seconds later to give the Dolphins a 71-70 lead.
But with 4:15 remaining, Hailey was whistled for an intentional foul for a clothesline tackle of Aiken Tech’s Washington. The incident nearly started a brawl on the court, but players were eventually separated.
One of Aiken’s players was ejected for leaving the bench area, and Smith hit the two free throws to give the Dolphins a short-lived 73-70 lead. Aiken made three of four free throws to tie it.
BCC regained the lead on Smith’s pull-up jumper with 3:41 to play, and Holley’s reverse layup with 2:50 left made it 77-73. Those turned out to be the last points of the season for the Dolphins.
On their next five possessions, they missed a jump shot, committed two turnovers and were calling for two offensive fouls.
As BCC faltered, Aiken Tech made four out of six free throws to tie the score at 77-77 with 19.4 seconds remaining.
The Dolphins had the ball and a chance to hold for the last shot, but they never got into the frontcourt despite two timeouts. As Haddock tried to get the ball inbounds with 5 seconds left, Thomas came up with a steal and headed toward the basket.
Haddock grabbed him and was called for an intentional foul with 4.5 seconds left. Thomas made both free throws, then hit another with 2.4 seconds to play to make it 80-77.
BCC’s Chris Hovermale came up short on a long three-point attempt as time expired.
“This is not what I wanted to see, but guys that would have been in a situation to make those plays at the end fouled out. We had some other guys we were hoping would step up and things didn’t work out,” said Shaw, the conference coach of the year.
“I can’t be more proud of this group of young men. It’s 28-5. It’s the best record in school history. Even when we won the championship (in 2004-05) we didn’t have a record this good.”
Sunday’s contest was the final game in a BCC uniform for seven sophomores, including several who are being recruited by Division I colleges.
“I’m proud of them, 48-14 (in two years). That’s a heck of a record. I don’t care who you play for,” Shaw said. “All of them are going to get taken care of with scholarships. We’ve got to learn from this and move on.”
Brunswick 41 36—77
Aiken Tech 40 40—80
Brunswick scoring: Holley 15, Shepherd 13, Jones 12, Hailey 8, Spencer 8, Smith 7, Haddock 7, Waters 4, Basnight 2, Jackson 1.
Aiken Tech scoring: Robinson 23, Washington 14, James 10, Quinn 10, Thomas 10, Miller 5, Team 4, King 2, Commodore 2.