The South Plains College Texans ended the Seward County Community College Saints’ hopes of a NJCAA national championship on Friday evening with a 77-65 victory in the semifinals at the NJCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., at the Sports Arena. The Saints never led in the contest, although they trailed by one point with 13:12 left in the game. Jonathan Hall had a standout game for South Plains leading all players with a near triple-double, including 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Sophomore Darko Cohadarevic scored a team-high 21 points with seven rebounds, and freshman point guard Reggie Chamberlain added 18 points (4-of-6 3-pointers), with six assists and two steals for the Saints.

Seward County (31-6) will look to finishes its season with a NJCAA Tournament third-place trophy as they take on No. 19 Three Rivers Community College (29-7) on Saturday evening at 6 p.m.

South Plains (29-5) advances to the NJCAA Championship game on Saturday night at 8 p.m. against No. 4 Salt Lake Community College (32-3), who earned a title berth with a convincing 68-50 win against Three Rivers on Friday evening.

The Saints started slow offensively as South Plains grabbed a 9-0 lead at the 15:26 mark. The Saints got on the scoreboard for the first time with a Nick Burns 3-pointer after four and a half minutes of play.

Trailing by eight points, the Saints went on a 7-2 run with a jumper from Bryson Hampton, a deep 3-pointer from Cohadarevic from the top of the key, and an under-hand scoop shot from Chamberlain to cut the Texans lead to 12-15, at the 7:50 mark.

With five minutes remaining in the first half, the Texans made five straight 3-pointers to take their largest lead, 32-16. Seward County finished the first period on an 8-2 run to trail by 10 points (34-24) at halftime.

Seward County struggled to find a rhythm offensively shooting 33 percent (8-of-24) in first-half play. The Texans, meanwhile, entered halftime after shooting 46 percent (6-of-13) from long range, as Hall led all scorers at the break with 12 points. Chamberlain chipped in 10 points for the Saints at halftime.

Seward County opened the second half outscoring the Texans 20-11, cutting the lead to one point (44-45) after Hampton made a shot in the lane with 13:12 left to play.

South Plains answered going on a decisive 15-1 run over the next five minutes of play. The SPC rally began with an offensive possession that ended in an old-fashioned three-point play with four offensive rebounds in the paint and a put-back basket to take a 60-45 lead with 8:33 left to play.

The Saints never gave in going on a 10-2 run, sparked by six points in the paint from Cohadarevic, and two straight 3-pointers from Chamberlain and Donald Dixon to bring the Saints within five points, 57-62, with 6:16 left in the game.

That would be the closest the Saints would come as the Texans made their 10th 3-pointer of the game in the middle of an 8-0 run to take a double-figure lead (70-57) with just 2:27 remaining.

Texans’ sophomore Luciano de Souza had a big game from the outside making 5-of-10 from 3-point range to finish with 21 points and six rebounds. Freshman guard David Tairu also scored in double figures (16 points) for South Plains.

South Plains finished the game shooting 10-of-22 (46 percent) from long distance, and the Texans were efficient from the foul stripe hitting 11-of-12 free throws.

Hampton scored seven points with six rebounds, and Burns had eight points with three rebounds, three assists and three steals. Dixon had another strong game off the bench for the Saints finishing with eight points with five rebounds.

Seward County struggled from the free throw line for the first time in NJCAA Tournament play shooting 50 percent (6-of-12). The Texans also handled the Saints’ defensive pressure well committing just eight turnovers, the fewest by any Saints’ opponent this season.

NOTES:
Seward County is now 6-5 all-time in NJCAA Tournament competition… The loss was only the second for the Saints in their last 20 games, and it also snapped the Saints’ 11-game winning streak… Seward County is now 2-6 this season when its opponent shoots better from the field… The Saints have trailed at halftime in every NJCAA Tournament game this season (2-1 overall record)… The Saints equaled their season-low for free throw shooting percentage (.500, 6-of-12)… Nick Burns is now in sixth-place in SCCC history for single-season steals with 78… A victory for the Saints on Saturday evening will tie the program’s best finish at a NJCAA Tournament (3rd Place – 1998), and will tie for the second most wins ever in a single-season (32 – also in 1994-1995) for a Seward County men’s basketball team… The Saints last played Three Rivers C.C. in the NJCAA Tournament in 1995, when the Raiders eliminated the Saints, 92-91 in loser’s bracket competition… Three Rivers’ head coach Gene Bess is the all-time winningest coach in college basketball history with an all-time 1,057-277 (.792) record in 38 seasons as head coach. He has led the Three Rivers program to 15 NJCAA Tournament appearances, where they have a 37-21 overall record and have placed in the top four in seven trips to the national tournament.

NJCAA TOURNAMENT – FRIDAY RESULTS
WINNER’S BRACKET GAMES
No. 4 Salt Lake C.C. defeated No. 19 Three Rivers C.C. (68-50)
South Plains College defeated Seward County C.C. (77-65)
LOSER’S BRACKET GAME
Indian Hills C.C. defeated Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College (76-75)
CONSOLATION BRACKET GAMES
Paris J.C. defeated No. 14 Walters State C.C. (71-61)
No. 2 Chipola defeated No. 5 Itawamba C.C. (72-53)

Game Schedule – Saturday, March 22, 2008
12:00 p.m. Paris J.C. vs. No. 2 Chipola College (Seventh/Eighth Place)
2:00 p.m. Eastern Arizona College vs. Indian Hills C.C. (Fifth/Sixth Place)
6:00 p.m. Seward County C.C. vs. No. 19 Three Rivers C.C. (Third/Fourth Place)
8:00 p.m. No. 4 Salt Lake C.C. vs. South Plains College (Championship)