Nick Thompson of CEU, left, takes a shot against Mesa Community College during Tuesday’s 65-64 overtime victory. The win sends the Golden Eagles to Hutchinson, Kan. to compete in the National Junior College Athletic Association playoffs.
SALT LAKE CITY - With only two days to recover and prepare after a physical and emotional victory over Northern Idaho on Saturday, March 6 to take the Region 18 title, the CEU Golden Eagles had to hit it hard again on Tuesday night.
This time the opponent was Mesa Community College out of Arizona and the prize was a trip to Hutchinson, Kan. for a berth in the NJCAA tournament.
The Eagles had a large crowd of home town fans that made the trip to Salt Lake to watch the game and cheer them on. In a defensive showdown,the two teams took the game to the wire and one overtime period before CEU held on for a nail-biting 65-64 victory.
It was a true seesaw affair all night. Neither team could make a run to build up more than a five-point lead. The Mesa Thunderbird's took the lead first. CEU grabbed to back after six minutes of play.
The Eagles found opportunities to pad their lead as Mesa sent them to the line often. Unfortunately the Eagles didn't convert when they needed to and they clung to a small margin until the end of the first half before the Thunderbirds tied it at 28.
CEU came out and regained the lead with two quick buckets, but that lead did not last. Much of the second half saw the Eagles trailing.
In the final five minutes CEU stepped up and with six second left to play were nursing a three point lead. Mesa converted an inbound pass and hit the three to send the game into overtime.
Again, neither team could take control in the extra period. But as the final minutes ticked away CEU put down two monster dunks to give themselves a one-point edge.
The Thunderbirds had another chance at an inbound play. This time the Eagles' defense was solid and the buzzer sounded as Mesa sent an air ball toward the hoop.
The team celebration was a little less exuberant than Saturday night, but the club made sure they acknowledged the crowd that had traveled far to support them.
Coach Chris Craig was relieved his team had pulled the game out. "Mesa is a slow-down defensive team," he said. "They like to hold the ball and swing it to the corners and finally score. Then we get it, run down and shoot.
"That's what they wanted us to do and we played into their game," he continued. "But we got the win even when we were not playing some of our best ball. We found a way to win and I am proud of the team."
When asked about the biggest play of the game, CEU's Michael Glover grinned and said, "Hmm, there were so many, but that last stop to win the game was it.
"We came so far and worked so hard not to win it," he added. "It has been so long since a team from CEU has gone to the nationals. It is a break for the community and a break for us."
"This was a bigger win than the Saturday game for sure," added Cliff Colomon. "Now we're going to the National Championship and that's big!"
The Eagles next play in Hutchinson on Tuesday and if the team wins, again on Thursday if they win. A loss will send CEU into the consolidation bracket.