JACKSON - The Cleveland State Cougars picked the perfect time to play their best basketball of the year, the TCCAA/NJCAA Region VIIBasketball Tournament. After winning an overtime thriller on Tuesday over Dyersburg State, the seventh seeded Cougars sizzled the netson day two of the tourney on Wednesday and handed the second-seeded and heavily favored, Saluqis of Southwest Tennessee a thumping loss, 93-80.
With the win, the Cougars move into the semifinals on Friday at 5:00 Eastern time. Fans can watch the live webcast via the Cougar SportsNetwork by going to the Cleveland State website, clicking on athletics and listen live.
"We survived an early scare, and then played with great confidence the rest of the night, I couldn't be more happy with this basketball team,"said a very happy Cougar coach Lee Cigliano. "Southwest is so good and so athletic, but we felt going in that we could score with them andwe did. It was a total team effort tonight."
The first half was more of a track meet as the Cougars and Saluqis raced up and down the court for the first 20 minutes.The Saluqis full court press caused the Cougars problems to start as they jumped out to a 9-3 lead. After a timeout, the Cougars settleddown and handled the press, went on a 10-4 run and quickly caught the Saluqis to tie the game at 13-13.
The lead switched hands or the game was tied 12 times over the next eight minutes. A short jumper, a 3-pointer and a runner in the lane fromKeith Johnson put the Cougars on top 31-30 and an offensive rebound from Gerard Gore helped the Cougars hold a slim lead until the finalseconds when a follow-up slam from Nate Rucker for the Saluqis at the buzzer tied the game at 42-42 at halftime. Johnson poured in 16 pointsin the first half while Rucker had 12.
The track meet continued in the second half and so did the hot hand of Keith Johnson. Johnson nailed a trey and then the Nick Ross showtook center stage. After scoring only one point in the first half, Ross got hot and proceeded to rain 3-point bombs down on the Saluqis as theCougars lead grew steadily. Ross hit three straight shots from three-point land while Gerard Gore found himself on the receiving end ofseveral nice passes from Travis Jones in the paint as the Cougars went on a 14-4 run for a 66-55 lead with nine minutes to play.
The Saluqis then got serious as D'Alvin Brown came off the bench with a 3-point show of his own hitting four in all as Southwest cut the leadto two points, 71-69. The Cougars were unphased though, and ran right back out to a double digit lead Johnson and Jones led a Cougar paradeto the Charity Stripe hitting 10-12 down the stretch to finish off the huge upset win and more importantly secure themselves a spot in thetournament semifinals on Friday.
Johnson led the Cougars (15-13) with 30 points, Ross and Jones added 20 points each while Gore capped off a big night at the office with13 points and 13 rebounds. Rucker led the Saluqis with 19 points, Brown had 12, Tavin Cummings had 11 while Chris Campbell and MarshunNewell had 10 apiece.
In other tournament action, top-seeded Columbia State survived with a win over Volunteer State, 67-62 and Jackson State protected their homecourt with a 79-76 win over Chattanooga State. Nick Ross was named to the All-Region 1st team and was also named freshman of the yearin the conference while Travis Jones was named All-second team.