HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Next man up.
Heading into Friday's semifinal matchup with perennial power Eastern Florida State without two of their leading scorers, the South Plains College men's basketball team never flinched as they torched the Titans 89-76 at the Hutchinson Sports Arena to advance to Saturday's national championship game against Southern Idaho at 7 p.m.
In their previous meeting on December 29 in Phoenix, South Plains bested Southern Idaho 69-65.
"I thought as what has been the case up here we got off to a really good start," South Plains head coach Steve Green said. "We hit some shots, and it seems like in the last three games we've started off aggressive and the other team has started off a little hesitant, and I think that's it."
Green continued his tactical offensive excellence Friday as the Texans placed six players in double figures and shot 54.2 percent from the floor. Freshman Keith McGee led all scorers with 24 points to go along with four assists and four steals, bucketing 8 of his 15 attempts and was 3 of 6 from the 3-point line.
Freshman Christopher Orlina recorded his second consecutive double-double, netting 16 points and snagged 10 boards including six on the offensive end. Without 6-foot-10 big man Isaiah Maurice who was serving a one-game game suspension after drawing two technical fouls on Thursday against Connors State, sophomore Raymond Doby stepped up in a huge way as the 6-foot-7 forward from East St. Louis, Illinois scored 12 points and grabbed five boards, chipping in 5 of his 8 attempts from the field over 30 minutes.
"Coach tells me 'It starts with you', and if I'm in it my teammates are going to follow through," McGee said. "Coach getting on to me about being aggressive has really helped, and I'm just trying to be more aggressive and get my teammates involved, and it's been working."
The Texans (27-8) continue to fluster opposing offenses on the defensive end as they forced the Titans (29-5) to shoot just 37 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from the 3-point line. Eastern Florida State entered Friday's matchup ranked second in the country with 51 rebounds per game, a message never received by the Texans as they won the battle on the glass, outrebounding their counterpart 42-37.
"We didn't exactly do what we game planned, but I think more of anything it was an attitude," Green said. "I told our guys we want to go play smash mouth we these guys. I think they're a little longer than us, but I didn't think they were more stout than we are, so that was going to be our plan."
Following a layup from Ali Ahmed to put the Titans up 4-2 with 17:28 to play in the first half, Orlina would find the bottom of the net on a 3-ball from the top of the key to give South Plains a 5-4 lead, one they would not relinquish over the next 37 minutes as they went on to lead by as much as 17 in the second half. In what was sure to be a battle of wits inside, South Plains struck early and often scoring 40 points inside the paint and netted 14 points in transition.
With two national titles in his hip pocket, Green will now look to lead the Texans to their third national title in the last 11 years.
"Right now, we're playing for one for these guys," Green said. "The other two, someday when I'm sitting around I'll think 'Yea, I had a couple of others', but this one is the most important right now. We're focused in on it, and we'll see what we bring tomorrow night. I would be extremely surprised if we didn't come out and give it the old college try and get after it hard."