C. Scott Shasteen, Motlow Sports Information
The Motlow Bucks put themselves in position to advance to their fourth consecutive TCCAA/Region VII Tournament championship game with a 78-68 win over Cleveland State Wednesday in the tournament quarterfinals played at Roane State in Harriman, Tenn.
Motlow (14-13) is the defending tournament champion and has played in the past three tournament championship games. The Bucks can make it four straight title games if they can beat top-seed Columbia State (25-2) on Friday in the semifinals. Motlow is the fourth seed and will tip off against Columbia State, the nation’s third-ranked team, Friday at 1 p.m. central.
The Bucks struggled early against the fifth-seeded Cougars from Cleveland, falling behind 16-7 with 11:30 left to play in the first half. Motlow then went on a 28-5 run, sparked by a four-point play by Dequon Miller, and took a 35-21 lead with 3:38 remaining in the first half. Motlow’s lead was 39-25 at halftime.
After extending their lead to 41-25 in the first minute of the second half, the Bucks saw the Cougars stage an admirable comeback and cut the Motlow lead to 51-50 with 8:30 left to play. Motlow extended its lead back to nine, 69-60, with 2:13 remaining, but the Cougars scored the next five points and trailed by four with 1:12 remaining.
Motlow sealed its win by making clutch free throws in the final minutes, something the Bucks have struggled with in recent games. Motlow hit 21-30 free throws, with Miller leading the way by making 13 of his 16 attempts. The freshman from Charleston, WV, who is being heavily recruited by multiple Division I universities, led the Bucks with 25 points and six assists.
However, it was sophomore Trey James who put the Bucks on his back in the second half after Cleveland closed the gap to one point. James, who led the conference in rebounding, finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Although the official statistics do not credit him properly, James blocked at least four Cleveland State shots.
The Bucks got seven points and two assists from Kytrel Williams and six points and five rebounds from Greg Mason. Reggie Williams scored six and CJ McEwen, Riley Jordan and Brandon Berridge added four points each.
Miller was named to the TCCAA all-conference first team, while James and Kytrel Williams were named to the all-conference second team. Columbia State’s T.J. Dunans was named the TCCAA Player of the Year and Columbia coach Brian Collins was named the Coach of the Year.
Cleveland State won the rebounding battle 46-35, but the Bucks protected the ball extremely well and committed only eight turnovers. Motlow shot 40% from the field and hit six 3-point shots, four by Miller and two by Reggie Williams.
The other men’s tournament semifinal game will feature second-seed Southwest Tennessee against third-seed Walters State at 3 p.m. central on Friday. The two semifinal winners will play for the conference championship and a trip to the national tournament on Saturday at 1 p.m. central time.
Visit the official website of Motlow Athletics at <www.motlowsports.com> for rosters, schedules, stats and more. Interact with Motlow Athletics at <Facebook/MotlowSports> and <Twitter@MotlowSports>.