After the big win
The North Platte Community College (29-5) men's basketball team claimed the Region IX championship Wednesday coming from behind to claim a 51-46 victory over the Otero Junior College Rattlers (26-8.} With the victory, the Knights advance to the National Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan. The Knights are rated No. 21 in the nation.
The regional championship is the second in program history; the other was in 2010. The 29 wins ties the 2010 team for most in school history.
“I am so proud of this team,” said head coach Kevin O'Connor. “These guys came to work every day and fought hard for this victory. We are excited to continue our season and for a chance to play at Hutch (Hutchinson, Kans.)”
The Knights started the game slowly as they shot only 32 percent from the field and had nine turnovers in the first half. They went into the locker room trailing 27-20.
As has been their calling card all season, the Knights stayed in the game with their defense, holding the Rattlers to 32 percent shooting in the first half and keeping themselves in striking distance.
The second half started out the same as both teams struggled to find an offensive rhythm. The Knights could never seem to get over the hump, but with 5 minutes left found themselves only down four points.
A couple key defensive stops and two free throws by Ben Wilson put the Knights down only two points with two minutes to play. Knights point guard Damon Brown threw a lob pass to Eric Richardson that he finished at the rim to tie the game.
As they had all night, the Knights made another huge defensive stop to give themselves the ball and a chance to take the lead.
The Knights ran the same play and the result was the same, as this time Brown's pass led to a Richardson dunk that gave the Knights the lead for good. Three defensive stops later and three Ethan Montalvo free throws were enough to give the Knights the win and the Region IX championship.
The Knights were led by Montalvo who finished with 18 points and Brown who had 10 points and four assists. Sophomores Wilson, Reath Jiech and Aboubacar Casse had great games to help lead the Knights to victory. Jiech and Montalvo were also named to the Region IX All-Tournament Team.
The Knights have a few days to rest and practice before heading to the small college national tournament. Games begin on March 18.