By CHRISTIAN MORTENSEN
The Pima Community College Men’s Basketball season came to an end on March, 24 when the Aztecs lost in the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship Game 89-85 to Triton College.
Even though Pima didn’t come away with the national championship, it was still a record breaking year for the men’s basketball program as they finished with the most total wins for a season in program history (31), the most conference wins in a season (18), as well as the best finish at the national tournament in school history (2nd place).
They also averaged the most points in the country this year with an impressive 102.4 points per game. Their scoring was so prolific that they broke the record for most points scored in the history of the NJCAA Division II Tournament.
The national runners up, the Aztecs also won the regional tournament for the second straight season, after finishing the regular season second place overall in the standings.
March 24: No. 2 seed Pima CC 85, No. 1 seed Triton College (Illinois) 89
In the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship Game, Pima were defeated 89-85 by Triton College.
With both teams knowing the ultimate prize was at stake, it was a highly competitive game that ultimately came down to the final minute, as Triton was just able to pull away from the Aztecs.
Early on, it was back and forth as there were six lead changes in the first five minutes of the first half. But Triton went on a 13-3 run to end the period and they led Pima by a score of 39-26 at the break.
In the early stages of the second half though, Pima fought back into the game with an 18-4 run of their own and took the lead at 44-43 with 15 minutes remaining in the game.
It continued to be back and forth as the second half progressed, and when sophomore guard Keven Biggs hit a corner three to give the Aztecs their biggest lead at 70-66 with six minutes remaining, it seemed Pima were going to run away with the national championship.
Triton though, had other plans.
After falling behind by four, Triton turned Pima over on their next two possessions and capitalized on the other end to retake the lead. They went on an 11-0 run over the next four minutes, and never relinquished their lead over the Aztecs.
Pima got the deficit down to four with 20 seconds in the game, but Triton’s efficiency at the free throw line was the Aztecs downfall and ultimately Pima were forced to settle for the second place trophy.
For the second straight game, sophomore point guard Alize Travis finished just short of triple-double with 22 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds. Guard Isaiah Murphy and Biggs finished with 16 points each.
Afterwards, Head Coach Brian Peabody was proud of how his team performed, “We dug ourselves a big hole at halftime and we fought like crazy to get back into it. We just ran out of gas,” he said, “I’m extremely proud of how hard they fought back.”
March 23: No. 2 seed Pima CC 102, No. 11 seed Delta College (Michigan) 94
Playing in the first final four in the history of Pima Men’s Basketball, the Aztecs defeated the No. 11 seed Delta College by a score of 102-94, to advance to the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship Game for the first time in program history.
Unlike the first two games Pima had played at the national tournament, this was not a blowout as the two teams were well matched and battled until the final whistle. Pima shot only 45% from the field but outrebounded Delta by 11 which proved to be a huge factor in the outcome of the game.
Travis was huge in the national semifinal, as the point guard from California came just short of a triple double with a line of 21 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds. Murphy was also pivotal for Pima, finishing with 20 points and hitting multiple big shots down the stretch to see off Delta.
Afterwards, Murphy relished in the moment, “this is an unbelievable feeling, we’ve been working so hard all season and we’ve been talking about this,” he said, “for it to finally be here is a dream come true.”
March 21: No. 2 seed Pima CC 103, No. 10 seed Highland CC (Kansas) 88
In a quarterfinal matchup of the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament, Pima defeated Highland Community College 103-88, to advance to the first final four in program history.
The victory over Highland also sealed the 30th win of the Aztecs’ season, another first for the program.
Much like the first round victory over the College of Southern Maryland, Pima’s offense was firing on all cylinders as the Aztecs shot an impressive 55% from the field.
Unlike the game against CSM though, Biggs was on fire for Pima. After going 1-9 from the field in the first round, the sophomore guard came at Highland with a vengeance; scoring 34 points including 9 threes and 1 highlight dunk that sent the gymnasium into a frenzy.
The fifteen point victory was well deserved for the Aztecs, who shot 30 percentage points higher from behind the three point line than Highland. Pima made 15 of 32 attempts from three point land while Highland made only 4 of 23.
March 20: No. 2 seed Pima CC 108, No. 15 seed College of Southern Maryland 84
In their opening game of the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament, the No. 2 seeded Aztecs defeated the No. 15 seed College of Southern Maryland in blowout fashion 108-84, to advance to the quarterfinals of the national tournament.
Pima held CSM to 37% shooting for the game, but it was close in the first half as the Aztecs led by only two, 49-47, at halftime. In the second half though it was a much different story, as Pima outscored CSM by a score of 59-37. Ilunga Moise was a beast all night, as the sophomore forward racked up a double-double of 17 points and 24 rebounds.
Overall six different Aztecs scored in double figures. Sophomore forward Justin Bessard had 21 to go with the 17 from Moise, while Abram Carrasco finished with 19, Jeremiah Bailey with 14, Murphy 14 as well and Travis 12.
It was an impressive offensive display from Pima, who shot 52% from the field and had 41 total bench points in the round of sixteen victory.
March 9: No. 2 seed Pima CC 73, No. 1 seed Phoenix College 70
Playing in the NJCAA Division II Region I Finals, the Aztecs defeated Phoenix College by a score of 73-70 to win the region for the second straight year, and to advance to the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Tournament in Danville, Illinois.
In the third matchup of the season between the two schools, Pima was victorious over the Bears for the first time, as they forced a missed three on the last play of the game to hold on to the victory.
It was back and forth the entire night, as whenever one team would go on a run and seem to take control, the other would come right back with a run of their own. Pima shot only 44% and scored well below their season average of over 100 points per game, so it was their defense that came up huge with their season on the line.
Biggs was named MVP of the final, as the sophomore posted 26 points to lead Pima in scoring on the night.
Afterwards, Coach Peabody was ecstatic with the victory, “we are known for being an offensive team, but tonight we guarded,” he said, “I couldn’t be happier for this team and especially for Keven Biggs, I really wanted this for him.”
March 7: No. 2 seed Pima CC 104, No. 3 seed South Mountain CC 95
After finishing the regular season with a record of 26-4, Pima hosted South Mountain Community College in the NJCAA Division II Region I Semifinals, where the No. 2 seeded Aztecs defeated the No. 3 seed Cougars by a score of 104-95 to advance to the regional final against Phoenix College.
After struggling early in the game, Pima took their first lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half and never relinquished, as they went into halftime with a 43-36 lead.
The second half was where Pima really asserted their dominance, as a combined 38 points from big men Bessard and Bailey saw the Aztecs blow passed South Mountain. Bessard scored the first 16 points of the second half for Pima, and the Aztecs took an 18 point lead with 11 minutes remaining in the game.
South Mountain didn’t quit, but couldn’t get the lead lower than nine points for the rest of the night as Pima held on to advance to the regional final.