JACKSON - The TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII Basketball Tournament tipped off on Tuesday at Jackson State Community College with four first round games, two on the men's side of the bracket and two more on the women's side.
Cleveland State and Dyersburg State met for the third time this year and the second time in two weeks and holding true to form, the Cougars made it three for three with a thrilling come-from-behind overtime win over the Eagles, 75-69.
In a seesaw battle that saw the Cougars lead by as many as 10 points and trail by four, the never-say-die Cougars found a way to get it done in crunch time. With the win, Cleveland State will advance to Wednesday's second round and a matchup with the second seeded Saluquis of Southwest Tennessee at 7:00 Eastern time.
"We didn't play our best game, but at this time of year, we'll take a win anytime we can one," said a relieved Cougar coach Lee Cigliano. "Give Dyersburg credit, they played a defense that we weren't really prepared for. We got out-coached, but my guys didn't give up and just kept working and found a way to win. TJ and Nick were fantastic down the stretch, but it was a total team effort tonight. It's survive and advance at this point and we did."
The Cougars led the entire first half, jumping out to a 14-10 lead early in the contest on a three-pointer by Keith Johnson. Johnson poured in 14 points in the first half. A 9-0 run by the Cougars midway through the half gave them their largest lead of the game at 23-13. Dyersburg then got hot and whittled away at the lead as they sliced it to a mere two points, 32-30 by halftime.
The lead changed hands eight times in the second half as the large crowd in attendance could tell this one was destined to go down to the wire. A three-point play by Travis Jones put the Cougars on top, 53-51 with just over four minutes to go and a pair of layups from Nick Ross put the Cougars on top again at the two minute mark.
Brandon Jones kept pouring points in the hoop for the Eagles in the paint as the intensity level went through the roof. Caleb Wood hit a short jumper for the Eagles to put his team on top, 65-61 with only 50 ticks left on the clock. Travis Jones then went to work for the Cougars with two drives to the bucket which produced four straight free tosses to tie the game once again at 65-65. Dyersburg had one last shot to win the game, but the Cougar defense came up with a big steal to force overtime.
In the extra period, the Eagles scored first, but the Cougars flexed their considerable muscles with an 11-2 run as Ross hit a long range bomb, a pair of free throws and a layup as the Cougars sealed the win and lived to play another day.
Ross led the Cougars (14-13) with 29 points, 23 in the second half and overtime, Travis Jones added 17 points 10 rebounds and five assists. Brandon Jones paced the Eagles (8-18) with 25 points while Marty Wilkerson had 14. Volunteer State eliminated Walters State in the other men's game of the day, 69-53 and will play top seeded Columbia State on Wednesday.