HUTCHINSON, Kansas — South Plains head coach Steve Green knew his team was capable; it was just a matter of when.
That moment arrived Saturday night as the South Plains College men's basketball team knocked off College of Southern Idaho 98-95 at the Hutchinson Sports Arena to capture the 2018 NJCAA Men's Basketball National Championship.
This marks the programs third national title, all coming under Green who became only the fourth coach in the history of the NJCAA to win three national championships at the NJCAA Div. I level.
"With all that we've been through this season, we felt like at the beginning of the year we definitely were worthy of playing on the last Saturday night, "Green said. "So many things happened over the course of the season, it started to put doubts in your mind. Then, all of a sudden at the regional tournament for whatever reason we started playing better, and maybe it was because they knew if we didn't we would have to sack up the basketballs, and you have to give our guys a lot of credit."
Leading 51-50 at the midway point, South Plains opened its lead to seven on a Keith McGee' 3-ball from the top of the key at the 18:21 mark of the second half. The Golden Eagles would come roaring back utilizing an 11-2 run to take a 61-59 lead on a 12-foot jumper from Tommy Burton with 16:01 to play.
Trailing 71-67 with under 14 minutes left in regulation, South Plains used a 5-0 run to recapture the lead following a McGee' layup with 12:04 left. Sophomore Charles Jones Jr. would then hit from the perimeter with 11:37 as Southern Idaho went back up three, 75-72. The Texans would answer yet again as Isaiah Maurice put South Plains back on top with a turnaround floater with just over nine minutes remaining.
"We knew what happened early on this year was completely on us, and simple mistakes cost us too many games," Maurice said. "We all knew we could put it together and win the regional championship and bring that momentum to the national tournament. We knew we could do it, and we did, and now we're national champs."
Deshawn Corprew would extend South Plains' lead to five with 5:57 to go with a 14-foot jumper giving the Texans an 82-77 advantage. Following a pair of free throws from Southern Idaho's Danya Kingsby that brought the Golden Eagles within four with 1:35 left in regulation, Corprew went coast-to-coast, converting at the rim with under 50 seconds left as South Plains went up six and held off Southern Idaho in the final seconds capping off the Texans third national title in the last 11 years.
"This is very special," said McGee, who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "This is a blessing, and with the season that we had and what we went through, nobody was expecting us to win anything, and most people didn't even think we would get to this tournament. Now that we're here and we won, you just have to thank God for all of this."
Corprew finished with a team-high 21 points, knocking down 7 of his 14 attempts from the floor and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe. Maurice netted 20 points to go along with 11 boards and two blocks, his sixth postseason game with at least 20 points. Freshman Christopher Orlina recorded his third consecutive double-double, tallying 17 points and 10 boards and was 13 0f 16 from the free throw line.
South Plains shot 50 percent (29-58) from the field and 77.8 percent (35-45) from the free throw line. The Texans dominated the interior bucketing 38 points inside the paint in a game that saw 11 lead changes over 40 minutes. Southern Idaho shot just 38 percent (32-84) from the floor and 32.6 percent (14-43) from the 3-point line.
Southern Idaho's Charles Jones Jr. led all scorers with 27 points, bucketing 10 of his 20 attempts from the floor and was 7-for12 from behind the arc. Khalid Thomas finished with 20 points and seven boards while Kingsby netted 15 and Burton finished with 11.