OCALA, Fla. (March 4, 2016) - Tallahassee Community College's men's basketball team will play for the region and state championships on Saturday night.
The NJCAA Region 8 No. 5 Eagles outscored No. 4 Daytona State College, 31-16, over the final 8:38 and knocked off the Falcons, 87-72, in Friday's semifinal round at the 2016 NJCAA Region 8/FCSAA State Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
Tallahassee is now one win away from a berth to the NJCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship in Hutchinson, Kan. But a familiar foe stands between the Eagles and their fourth region/state championship: No. 2 Northwest Florida State College. The defending national champion Raiders avenged a December loss to Palm Beach State College on Friday to punch their ticket to Saturday's championship game.
Now, Tallahassee and Northwest Florida State will meet for a fourth time, but the first on a neutral floor. The first three meetings came during the 2016 Panhandle Conference season, including the Raiders' 102-73 drubbing of Tallahassee in the regular season finale to win the PC championship.
Northwest Florida State won both meetings in Niceville while Tallahassee picked up a 90-85 win at home on February 2.
Those games are of no consequence, however, heading into Saturday's championship tilt.
"I'm happy for the kids," said Tallahassee head coach Mark White. "I could not be happier for a group of guys because they worked so hard and they have earned this opportunity."
Advancing to Saturday's finale didn't require a monumental comeback, which Tallahassee needed in Wednesday's win over top-ranked Eastern Florida State College. The Eagles did, however, close just as strong as they did in the quarterfinals.
Trailing 56-53, the Eagles made a concerted effort to get the ball into the hands of Rashad Lewis, and the sharpshooter did what he does best.
He hit back-to-back threes, the first tied the game, the second gave Tallahassee a 59-56 lead. The Eagles never trailed again.
Lewis hit another three-pointer at the 8:00 mark to extend the Eagles' lead to 62-58.
The game was still in the balance with 6:34 left and Tallahassee in front 64-62, but a 7-0 run in a span of 72 seconds pushed the lead to nine and the Eagles pulled away from there.
Daishon Smith knocked down a three-pointer at the 3:12 mark to keep the lead at nine. From there, Tallahassee closed things out at the line, knocking down 8-of-10 over the final two minutes.
"Our guys have been big time players in the second half," added White.
The first 30 minutes was a nip-and-tuck affair, with Daytona State holding the advantage for much of the game, and during the first ten minutes, the game featured three ties and six lead changes.
Consecutive three-pointers by Lewis and Jahvaughn Powell gave Tallahassee a 15-7 lead at the 13:24 mark of the first half. Daytona State scored the next eight points to grab the lead and later used a 15-7 surge for a 31-24 advantage with 4:27 left until the intermission.
That turned out to be the Falcons' largest lead of the game. Tallahassee used an 8-0 run, including six points from Deion Bute, to take a 34-33 lead two minutes before the break and eventually went to the locker room trailing 37-35.
A much cleaner game in the second 20 minutes aided Tallahassee's outcome. After committing 11 turnovers – which resulted in 15 points for Daytona State – in the first half, the Eagles committed just two after the intermission.
The Eagles also hit 20-of-25 free throw attempts in the second half and knocked down six of nine three-pointers.
Overall, Tallahassee hit 10-of-21 three-pointers, a 47.6 percent clip, which set a new postseason record for the Eagles.
Lewis tied a postseason record with seven three-pointers and shot 7-of-11 from long distance, finishing with a game-high 25 points, one of five players in double figures for Tallahassee.
Bute had his best offensive game of the season, scoring 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
David Simmons scored 14, Smith had 13 and Powell finished with 10.
Tallahassee and Northwest Florida State will tip off at 5 p.m. Saturday evening.