UNIONTOWN, PA -- On Friday, March 8th, the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats nearly edged out the Bluefield State Big Blues in the Semifinals of the USCAA National Tournament, but ultimately fell short in the final minute, 65-62.
The previous game, in a riveting and heart-pounding comeback, the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats had defeated the Clinton College Golden Bears. Behind some spectacular senior leadership via Nicc Johnson, the streaky shooting of sophmore, Taijay Williams, and the second-half heroics of sophomore, Tyrell Mitchell, the Bobcats overcame a 16-point deficit to advance to the semifinals. Meanwhile, the Bluefield State College Big Blues had upset the second seed, Stratford University Cardinals to advance to the final four with assistance of their saavy point guard, Korey Williams, who averaged 16.9 points per game this season and dished out 4.0 assists per contest.
In the first half, each team made sure that the other had to earn their points the hard way. The defensive intensity was high and so was the emotion. Until about a minute or so in, no one had scored at all, until Teyon Henry knocked down a three pointer, and Korey Williams followed suit, stepping back to hit a three of his own.
These two shots opened up an early 6-0 lead for the Big Blues.
In tournament fashion, however, the pendulum would eventually swing the other way. Jordan Street got the ball and used his body to create some space down low, scoring the Bobcat's first 2 points of the game. From that point, the game stayed at 6-2 until around 15 minutes left in the first half, when Tyrell Mitchell broke the scoring drought, slicing to the hoop for an acrobatic lay up.
Unfortuantely, Mitchell's acrobatics were matched on the next possession at the other end by guard, Korey Williams.
Williams would go on to score nearly half of his team's points in the first twenty minutes, padding the stat sheet with 12 points, 2 assists, and 4 rebounds on 5-10 shooting from the field. But more importantly, he would control the tempo of the game. Teyon Henry was the next closest contributer with 5 points at halftime.
For the Bobcats, a more balanced effort was at play. Nicc Johnson and Tyrell Mitchell had 5 points a piece at the midway point, but more importantly, Jordan Street had gotten into the flow of the game, giving the Bobcats an inside presence. Street had 5 points and 2 rebounds, shaking up the Big Blues game plan.
But when Street got into foul trouble, the Bobcats had to get help from their bench.
Bryant Fulton entered the game and picked up the slack. Fulton scored 6 points and dished out a beautiful assist in the paint.
At halftime, though the energy and emotion was high, the scoreboard read 26-28, the Big Blues with a slight advantage.
When the second half began, both teams came out of the locker room ready to pick up the pace. Pushing the ball up the floor, Korey Williams started to attack for Bluefield State. Instead of passively backing away from the Bobcat's defenders stepping up on the pick and roll, he looked to turn the corner and score or dish to his teammates. On the other end, the Bobcats took almost the same approach, only it was Tyrell Mitchell attacking the rim and sliding a no look pass to Jordan Street, who continued to punish Bluefield State in the paint.
For the next eight minutes, the score would go back and forth, each team exhanging a one-point lead for short stints of time. During this stretch, Street found himself being a primary scorer. Mitchell got loose for a lay up, and then, reserve Jeriah Williams broke away on the fast break to score.
At 41-40, the Bobcats had taken the lead and The Big Blues took a timeout to regroup.
Out of the timeout, it was as if someone flipped a switch on the back of Korey Williams; all plays for the Big Blues were either made by him, or somehow, were facilitated through him. Nicc Johnson made a lay up for the Bobcats, and Korey Williams raced down court to make a lay up for the Big Blues. Two plays later and Williams called out a screen and roll play at the top of the key. He attracted a group of Bobcat defenders, only to kick the ball out to Greg Purnell, who skipped the ball to Teyon Henry for a three pointer. The next offensive possession for the Big Blues, Williams decided to take it himself, hitting a short jumper in the lane over two Bobcat defenders.
This small run put the Big Blues back up at the ten minute mark, 47-43.
Again, the Bobcats would fight back via Mitchell and Street. Tyrell Mitchell slashed to the basket for 2 of his 8 second-half points. Street muscled his way down low and put in 2 of his 12 second-half points. At eight minutes, the Bobcats once again tied the game, but only to watch Korey Williams knock down a deep three point shot and drive the lane for a lay up, putting his team up. Greg Purnell would hit a lay up that put the Big Blues up 56-49, and then for the next three minutes, both teams would go scoreless.
Eventually, USCAA Slam Dunk Contest Champion, Shawn Duhon would knock down two free throws for Bluefield State making the score 58-51, by far the largest lead of the second half. But per normal, the Bobcats had some fight left, and it came courtesy of senior Nicc Johnson.
Johnson hit his first three pointer via a nice pass from Taijay Williams. The Bobcats went into a press, but before they could get completely set up, Bluefield State's Korey Williams raced down the floor for another 2 of his 16 second-half points. However, that didn't stop Johnson from pulling the trigger the next time down the court and knocking down yet another trey from deep. At 60-57, Bluefield State had a slight lead, but could feel the heat. They called a 30-second timeout to set up their offense and begin milking the clock in the final minutes of the game.
Out of the huddle, the Big Blues scored on a jump shot from Brandon Anyanwu, but 18 seconds later, Nicc Johnson would again, pull up with yet another three point shot that found the bottom of the net. The score was 60-62, Bluefield State, with 58 seconds left.
The next time down the floor, Shawn Duhon got fouled, but still finished the lay up. He had a chance to finish the three-point play, but he missed the free throw. The Bobcats would push the ball back up court. Off of another assist from Kevin Ford, big man Jordan Street finished at the rim.
With 27 seconds left and down 2 points, the Bobcats called timeout. After regrouping on the sideline, they came out of the huddle and matched up to deny the ball inbounds. However, Korey Williams of Bluefield State created space and came to the ball. Williams pushed the ball beyond the halfcourt line and burned off a significant amount of seconds left on the clock.
By the time any Bobcat caught up to Williams to foul him, nineteen seconds had elapsed, leaving only eight seconds to go in the game. Williams made his first free throw, but committed a free throw violation on the second, which meant there was a chance to tie the game and send it to overtime.
The Bobcats had one play left, so they called a timeout to draw it up. With only a 30-second timeout remaining, they had to work fast. Out of the huddle, they came back out on the court looking confident. Mitchell inbounded the ball to Kevin Ford, and Ford pushed the ball up the court. With Johnson being face-guarded, Ford was forced to lob the ball cross-court over the defense to Jordan Street, who was open in the right corner. With little time on the clock, Street caught the ball beyond the three-point line and shot it, the remaining seconds ticking off the clock.
The shot came up short and the buzzer sounded. The Bluefield State Big Blues had defeated the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats to advance to the Champion game of the USCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, 65-62.
In a truly admirable performance, Korey Williams finished with 28 points, 2 assists, and 5 rebounds. USCAA Slam Dunk Champion, Shawn Duhon, added 13 points and 8 rebounds for the Bluefield State Big Blues. In his final game as a Bobcat, Nicc Johnson had 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and 4 steals. Jordan Street, who might have had his best game of the season, also scored 17 points, but additionally grabbed 6 rebounds. USCAA All-American, Tyrell Mitchell, contributed 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist.
In the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcat's first season as a men's basketball program, under the tutelage and oversight of head coach, Damone Brown, the team posted a winning record, had some notable wins (knocking off then #2 Villa Maria at home), had 3 academic and 2 athletic USCAA All-Americans, and advanced to the Final Four of the USCAA National Tournament.
To rewatch the Bobcat's last game of the 2018-2019 season, click here.