UNIONTOWN, PA -- On Thursday, March 7th, in a riveting and heart-pounding comeback, the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats defeated the Clinton College Golden Bears 80-73 to advance to the USCAA Final Four.
Coming off the emotional highs of the USCAA National Championship Brunch Banquet held on Wednesday, where four Bobcat players were awarded either academic and/or athletic USCAA All-American honors, the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats were set to take on a hot Clinton College Golden Bears team, whom coming into this contest, not only captured the EMAC Conference Championship, but did so by defeating Stratford University and Johnson & Wales University, two formidable teams ranked 3rd and 6th in the Week 9 Division I and Division II USCAA Coaches Polls released this February. In the true spirit of march madness, the two teams would square off in Penn State Fayette Arena on the Eberly Campus for a chance to advance to the USCAA Final Four.
From tip off, the Bobcats and Golden Bears participated in a back and forth exchange, each team matching the other's intensity. However, about ten minutes into the first half, the Golden Bears went on their first run, opening a 12 point lead in a span of two minutes that changed things on the scoreboard. Down 21-9 and now fighting an uphill battle, Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo couldn't seem to find themselves on the offensive end, and on the defensive end, USCAA All-American guard, Tyrell Mitchell, had picked up three early fouls. To preserve Mitchell's time on the floor in the second half and prevent him from fouling out, he would have to go to the bench.
In Mitchell's absence, Clinton College saw an opportunity and began attempting to capitalize. Marquise Caldwell came off the bench firing. He stepped back behind the three-point line and nailed a long bomb. He would finish the half with 8 points. Kobe Reeves came into the game to score inside; he contributed 6 points. However, the combination of Ron Barnes and Jason Mixon was really what gave the Bobcats trouble.
Barnes scored 9 points and grabbed 6 rebounds, while Mixon scored 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. And when Barnes and Mixon weren't putting up numbers on the offensive end, it was high-flying Micah Smith's 4 blocked shots on the defensive end that pushed the Golden Bears out in front.
During this stretch, Clinton College expanded their lead to 16 points before the Bobcats knew what had hit them. But, this is March and a 16 point lead can vanish in an instant. Let the madness ensue.
With Tyrell Mitchell out of the game and in foul trouble, Nicc Johnson had little choice but to carry a large amount of the offense on his shoulders. Johnson found himself penetrating to the basket and drawing contact from defenders. He would get to the free throw line and begin doing his damage from there. Then, after six previous attempts, Johnson finally got a three pointer to fall from outside.
But the best was yet to come.
On one of his two steals in the first half, Johnson poked the ball away and started the fast break. With shot blocker and dunk contest participant, Micah Smith, closing in on him from the left side, and 6'4" Kobe Reeves on the right, Johnson took off from the block and hammered home a dunk that shocked Penn State Fayette Arena. Normally, calm and collected, Johnson let loose a scream that must have woke up some of his Bobcat teammates.
Taijay Williams answered the call. He would get in the mix and knock down a three-point shot from the wing. Daquan Walker also came off the bench to hit two three point shots of his own and swish some important free throws. At half, Johnson led the Bobcats into the locker room with 9 points and 3 rebounds. Williams added his 3 points and Walker had 8 points.
At halftime, the Bobcats were down 38-29, but seemed to have found their fight.
After shooting 25% in the first twenty minutes, and weathering a strong storm from the Golden Bears, at halftime the Bobcats only trailed by 9 points.
In the second half, Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo was on a mission; they had to cut into the lead that Clinton College had established early on. To do so, they would have to chip away little by little at the nearly double-digit advantage and do so possession by possession. Jordan Street bumped and banged his way inside to score 2 points on the block. Taijay Williams came into the game and pulled up on the fast break for a mid-range jumper. He found the bottom of the net. Nicc Johnson fired away and hit a long three.
By the first media time out, the Bobcats had cut the lead to 5 points.
Ron Barnes and Kobe Reeves provided the push back for the Golden Bears. Barnes grabbed a rebound and put back 2 of his 7 points and 6 rebounds in the second half, while Reeves slashed to the bucket for the easy lay up, pushing the lead back to 8 points at 51-43.
The Bobcats would counter with a couple of Taijay William's three pointers. He would go 3-5 from the arch in the second half and contribute 11 points. Also finding his rhythm was the previously quiet Tyrell Mitchell, proving to the USCAA faithful that he earned those USCAA All-American honors. Mitchell scored 11 points of his own on 5-9 shooting from the field and had a thunderous dunk as he broke out in the court via an overhead outlet pass by Jordan Street.
With 6:19 left on the clock in the second half, Nicc Johnson picked up where he left off, knocking down a clutch free throw that tied the game, 59-59. The next trip down the floor, the Bobcats returned to Johnson on the wing, where he hesitated and drove hard to the block. On a jump stop, he went up and into the chest of his defender and was fouled. He would hit both foul shots and give the Bobcats their first lead since the beginning of the game.
Meanwhile, Mike Davis, point guard and USCAA Academic All-American, entered the game and locked down Marquise Caldwell, who, for the most part, had done a good job of killing the momentum of several Bobcat runs by hitting long three point shots. Caldwell would miss his next 3 shot attempts and commit 2 costly turnovers.
With but a minute left in the game, Kevin Ford rebounded and put back a miss by Tyrell Mitchell, pushing the Bobcat lead to 5 points. Clinton College called a timeout to regroup. The next couple of plays out of the huddle belonged to Micah Smith. Off a couple of dribble hand offs, Smith stepped back and hit two off-balance three point shots. Smith would finish with 13 points. But the damage was done.
Ron Barnes had a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds to finish the game, and Marquise Caldwell would pitch in 14 points of his own. However, despite these performances, it was the heart and team effort of the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats that stole the show.
With 19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 6 steals, Nicc Johnson led the charge, challenging his teammates to follow suit and fight to survive in tournament play. Bouncing back from a shaky first half, Tyrell Mitchell finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 steals. Williams continued his hot shooting, going 4-6 from beyond the three point line, scoring 14 points, and grabbing 7 rebounds. Other notable performances were Daquan Walker's streaky shooting in the first half, Mike Davis's tenacious defense down the stretch, Kevin Ford's solid 8 points and 4 assists, and Jordan Street tough inside presence that contributed 7 points and 9 rebounds to the cause.
In the Bobcat's first season as a newly formed college basketball program, it was their hard work and never-say-die spirit that allowed them to comeback from a 16 point deficit to advance to the USCAA Final Four.
With yesterday's win, the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats keep their USCAA Championship hopes alive. They are scheduled to play the Bluefield State College Big Blues at 6pm EST in Penn State Fayette Arena. The Big Blues have an 8-15 record on the year, but boasted a tough schedule; to advance to the final four, they defeated number 3 ranked Stratford University with assistance of their saavy point guard, Korey Williams, who averaged 16.8 points per game this season and dished out 4.0 assists per contest. You can stream the game live via the USCAA Championship website: click here.
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