The Salt Lake Community College men’s basketball team defeated Cochise College 99-73 in the District 1 Championship to earn a guaranteed spot into the NJCAA national tournament.
Salt Lake (26-8) celebrated the win Saturday night in Bruin Arena after handling the Apaches (26-7) and their up-tempo style of play. Cochise shot 42.9 percent from the field and just 25.9 percent from 3-point range.
Tyler Rawson put the Bruins on the board and set the tone early with a dunk on the opening possession. SLCC led by as much as 16 points in the first half before Cochise came back to cut the Bruins lead down to eight.
Salt Lake head coach Todd Phillips stressed the importance of executing the offense and committing to the defense as the Bruins entered halftime with a 41-32 lead.
“What we need to do is we need to keep pounding it inside,” SLCC assistant coach Paul Marble said at the half. “You saw at the very first of the game when we kept throwing it inside they have no answer for our inside play. We just got to keep finding ways to get it inside, execute our plays a little bit better than maybe we’ve been doing.”
The Bruins ran away with the game in the second half, shooting 55 percent from the field and 13-14 from the free-throw line.
Sophomore Gibson Johnson had an outstanding night as he contributed a team-high 30 points.
“It feels amazing. I mean, [I] worked two years for it and all that hard work’s finally paying off,” Johnson said. “So we finally are playing our best basketball at the right time and it feels really good.”
Rawson recorded a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Conner Toolson finished the game with 13 points and four rebounds. Bushmen Ebet and Marcus White, who shot 71 percent from the field, chipped in 10 points each to add to the final score.
“It feels really, really good … we had a great tournament last week and then turn around and win today,” Phillips said after the game. “The kids played really good, they bought in. … The kids are excited to go to Nationals, that’s been our goal from day one.”
The NJCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament will be held March 14-19 in Hutchinson, Kansas. The Bruins will know their seed and their first-round opponent for Nationals on Monday.