TWIN FALLS, Idaho At one point in Saturday's Region 18 championship game, a College of Southern Idaho fan frustratingly admitted out loud that Salt Lake Community College's Brian Green was "unreal."
On this night, that description could be used to describe the Bruins' whole team.
Green scored 27 points hitting five 3-pointers along the way and fourth-ranked SLCC stunned the third-ranked Golden Eagles 81-77 to claim the conference championship.
The upset victory, which was nerve-wrackingly up for grabs until the final seconds, gives the Bruins (29-3) a golden ticket to the NJCAA national tournament that begins in a week in Hutchinson, Kan.
"We played our guts off. We all played tough. That's the best feeling in the world (30-2) we get to go to 'Hutch,'" said Green, a former Davis High standout who earned tourney MVP honors. "We have a lot of heart to come in here, in a packed house at CSI and beat these guys."
After leading for most of the game, however, SLCC had to sweat out the final seconds. The Golden Eagles trimmed the Bruins' lead to 78-77 with a pair of free throws with 46.5 seconds remaining, and then CSI forced SLCC and a double-teamed Green into a turnover with some scrappy defense with about 12 ticks left.
That, though, is when the Golden Eagles surprisingly almost literally handed the game over to the visiting Bruins. Coming out of a timeout with 6.4 seconds remaining, CSI's Nick Hansen made a bad inbounds pass that went out of bounds on the other side of the court to give SLCC the ball back.
Yahosh Bonner put SLCC up 79-77, hitting one of two free throws, and then CSI made another uncharacteristic mistake. An inbounds pass with four seconds remaining bounced off of Reggie Guyton's leg into SLCC's bench, giving the Bruins the ball back.
SLCC big man Papa Samba Guisse then clinched the championship for the Bruins by making a layup with 0.9 seconds remaining. DaVell Jackson, who played this game after missing the past two because of a suspension, stole the last-second pass and the SLCC celebration was on.
Quite the shocker for the silent and stunned home crowd, whose team had represented Region 18 (the Scenic West Athletic Conference) at the NJCAAs for four years in a row. The Bruins were the only team to beat CSI this season once two weeks ago when the Eagles were ranked No. 1 in the nation and then again Saturday when it counted most.
This will be the Bruins' first trip to the NJCAA tournament since 1994, when they finished fifth.
"The kids really worked hard. We're a tough team and we played tough today," said SLCC coach Norm Parrish. "That's what we've done all year. We're not that good except we play hard and we play tough."
The game seemed to be finally going CSI's way late in the second half. After SLCC built an 11-point lead, the Golden Eagles quickly stormed back to snatch a 59-58 advantage with seven minutes left. The place was going bonkers. CSI was celebrating. Fans and cheerleaders were flipping out.
And then Green had his "unreal" stretch. He drilled three clutch 3-pointers and sank two free throws to help SLCC regain a nine-point lead with four minutes to go. That and some clutch play by Jackson gave the Bruins just enough of a cushion to fend off the Golden Eagles' last surge.
The defensive-minded Bruins, who are ranked second in points allowed, completely dictated the tempo for most of the game. SLCC's smothering defense stifled the explosive Golden Eagles, holding the nation's highest-scoring offense to just 28 points on 29.4-percent shooting.Joey Shaw led Southern Idaho with 24 points. The Bruins didn't exactly scorch the nets, either, but they still enjoyed a surprising 35-28 lead behind 11 points from Vassy Banny and 10 from Green. Banny played a big game, finishing with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds along with four steals and all-tourney honors. Samba Guisse added 10 points and eight boards off the bench. Jackson only had eight points and four assists, but his ballhandling skills helped SLCC withstand CSI's press as good as can be expected.