The Seward County Community College men’s basketball team advanced to the NJCAA Tournament Final Four with a 68-61 victory over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College on Thursday night in the quarterfinals at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. The Saints played the majority of the game without leading scorer Darko Cohadarevic who got into foul trouble, but came away with the victory using a strong second-half push to remain unbeaten in tournament play. Seward County improves to 31-5 overall this season while NEO drops to 27-8 overall.

The win advances Seward County to the NJCAA Tournament semifinals for the second time in school history (1998 – 3rd place). The Saints will face South Plains College at 8 p.m. Friday evening for the right to play for the NJCAA National Championship on Saturday night. South Plains (28-5) advanced with a 66-61 victory over Indian Hills Community College in the final game on Thursday evening.

Seward County took a 12-6 lead early in the game after Donald Dixon made a 3-pointer from the right corner with 13:51 left in the first half. NEO followed with a 7-0 run to take its first lead since the opening basket of the game, 13-12.

The Saints committed 13 first-half personal fouls, including two fouls by Cohadarevic. The 6-foot-9 Serbian was scoreless in first-half play, tallying just six minutes after picking up his second personal foul at the 14:12 mark.

The final 10 minutes of the first half had four lead changes and three ties, as NEO led by as many as five points (26-31) with 1:16 before halftime.

Both teams shot 36 percent in the opening half, with NEO guard Reggie Mathis leading all players with 11 points on 5-of-6 field goals. After making 40-of-47 from the charity stripe against Chipola on Tuesday, Seward remained strong at the free throw line shooting 8-of-9 in the first half, and 18-of-21 in the game.

Sophomore guard Nick Burns led the Saints with eight points in the first half while Ervin Williams and Reggie Chamberlain both added seven points.

Seward regained the lead at the start of the second half on back-to-back 3-pointer from Bruno Mendes and Cohadarevic to take a 36-31 advantage. The Saints held the lead for the next six minutes before NEO made a 3-pointer, and grabbed a steal for a break-away lay-up to take a 41-40 lead with 14:13 to play.

At the 13:59 mark in the second half, Cohadarevic was whistled for his third foul (offensive charge), and then committed his fourth foul as a technical foul was issued before play resumed.

Dixon kept the Saints close, with Cohadarevic on the bench for the next eight minutes, making seven consecutive points for Seward County, including two drives in the lane for buckets and a 3-pointer from the left corner. Chamberlain then tied the score at 49 with two free throws with 8:09 left to play.

With NEO leading by its largest margin, 49-55, with 6:10 remaining, the Saints went on a 13-0 run, which included Williams’ third block of the game that led to a Chamberlain lay-up to tie the score at 55 with 3:15 to play.

Williams gave the Saints the lead for good with a basket in the lane with 2:34 left to play giving SCCC a 57-55 advantage. Seward eventually led by as many as eight points down the stretch and secured the win with 6-of-8 from the free throw line.

Chamberlain led Seward County with 15 points (8-of-8 free throws), and he led all players with four assists. Burns made three treys and finished with 14 points, four rebounds and three steals. Williams tallied 13 points (5-of-5 free throws) with a team-high nine rebounds, and he collected four steals and three blocks.

Dixon led the Saints’ charge for most of the second half while playing in 28 minutes off the bench. The 5-foot-9 sophomore guard finished with 11 points (2-of-3 three-pointers), two rebounds and two assists.

Seward County shot over 85 percent (18-of-21, .857) from the free throw line for the second straight game and is now 58-for-68 (.853) from the line in the NJCAA Tournament. Seward County forced 25 NEO turnovers, but committed an uncharacteristic 24 turnovers.

NEO was led by its two leading scorers this season, Mathis (16 points) and Dominique Gaines (19 points). The Norse shot just 1-of-12 from 3-point range, being outscored by SCCC 24-3 from long range. NEO also shot just 18-of-30 from the charity stripe.

Cohadarevic played in just 17 minutes while scoring seven points, with five rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shot.




NOTES:
Seward County improves to 6-4 all-time in NJCAA Tournament competition… NEO was last in the NJCAA Tournament in 1992, and has made seven total appearances in the program’s history… Zollinger has now led the Saints to victories in 18 of their last 19 games overall, including a current 11-game winning streak… It was the Seward County men’s basketball program’s 650th all-time victory… Zollinger has led the Saints to a 10-2 record this season in games decided by 9 points or less… Seward improves to 14-0 this season when shooting at least 40 percent from the field (41 percent vs. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M)… Seward County is now fifth in the NJCAA in free throw shooting percentage (.732)… Nick Burns shot 3-of-6 from long range giving him 101 career 3-pointers. He becomes the eighth Seward County player to ever record 100 threes. Burns is now two 3-pointers away from moving ahead of Keoni Watson (102) for seventh-place all-time… Reggie Chamberlain is now in sixth-place in SCCC history for single-season assists with 163… Ervin Williams’ three blocks moves him into fourth-place in SCCC history for single-season blocked shots… Seward County is on the verge of breaking the school’s all-time record for single-season free throw shooting. They are currently shooting .732 from the free throw line – the all-time record stands at .716 (1997-98)…

NJCAA TOURNAMENT – THURSDAY RESULTS
WINNER’S BRACKET GAMES
Seward County C.C. defeated Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (68-61)
South Plains College defeated Indian Hills C.C. (66-61)
LOSER’S BRACKET GAMES
Eastern Arizona College defeated Southeastern Illinois College (70-59)
CONSOLATION BRACKET GAMES
No. 14 Walters State C.C. defeated Eastern Wyoming (85-77)
No. 2 Chipola College defeated Shelton State C.C. (76-75)
No. 5 Itawamba defeated Georgia Perimeter (83-61)

Game Schedule – Friday, March 21, 2008
11:00 a.m. Paris J.C. vs. No. 14 Walters State C.C. (Consolation Bracket)
1:00 p.m. No. 2 Chipola College vs. No. 5 Itawamba C.C. (Consolation Bracket)
3:00 p.m. Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College vs. Indian Hills C.C. (Loser’s Bracket)
6:00 p.m. No. 4 Salt Lake C.C. vs. No. 19 Three Rivers C.C. (Winners Bracket – Semifinals)
8:00 p.m. Seward County C.C. vs. South Plains College (Winners Bracket – Semifinals)