The Pima Community College men’s basketball’s historic season ended on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II Tournament championship game.The No. 2 seeded Aztecs fell short of the ultimate goal as they lost to No. 1 Triton College (IL) 89-85 in a back and forth battle that was decided in the final minute. This was the Aztecs 2nd straight appearance in the tournament, and their first in the championship game. Last year, the Aztecs lost in the Elite 8.
The Aztecs claimed their biggest lead of the game after sophomore Keven Biggs (Cienega HS) hit a three-pointer to make it 70-66 with 6:00 left. They led 71-68 with 5:22 left in the game when sophomore Isaiah Murphy (Cienega HS) converted on 1 of 2 free throws. The Trojans converted on a couple Aztec turnovers and missed shots to go on an 11-0 run in three and half minutes to take a 79-71 advantage with 1:52 remaining.
The Aztecs were forced to put the Trojans on the free throw line and they went 8 for 12 from the line in the final 1:08. The Aztecs put some pressure on the Trojans when Murphy hit a three-pointer to cut the deficit to six points at 86-80. The Trojans turned the ball over and freshman Elloheim Clark hit a pair of free throws to make it 86-82. The Trojans made two foul shots and the Aztecs ran out of time in the end.
The Aztecs and Trojans went right at it to begin the game as the lead changed six times in the first seven minutes. The Trojans closed out the first half on a 13-3 run to put Pima behind 39-26 at the break.
The Aztecs came out with more fire in the second half as they went on a 18-4 run in five and a half minutes to take the lead at 44-43. The Aztecs went up at 53-51 with 12:17 left and the Trojans again went on an 11-4 run to give them a 62-57 lead. The Aztecs responded right back with an 8-2 run to retake the lead at 65-64. The game featured eight ties and 18 lead changes.
Sophomore Alize Travis came up short on a triple-double as he scored a team-high 22 points with 10 rebounds and eight assists. Biggs and Murphy each finished with 16 points and four assists. The Aztecs went 10 for 33 shooting in the first half (.303) but responded in the second half going 17 for 35 (.486).
“We dug ourselves a big hole at halftime and we fought like crazy to get back into it. We just ran out of gas,” Pima coach Brian Peabody said. “I’m extremely proud of how hard they fought back. Triton’s length and athleticism hurt us on the arc. They were the first team to hold us under 100 points (for the tournament). It just wasn’t our night on the arc.”
After the game, Travis, Murphy and freshman Jeremiah Bailey were named to the NJCAA Division II All-Tournament team.
The Aztecs close out the season with a 31-5 overall record and an NJCAA Division II runner-up trophy; just a couple of milestones the team achieved this season. Murphy, Moise, Travis and Keegan Biggers (Tucson HS) achieved personal goals as members of the men’s basketball team. They won 53 games with back-to-back trips to the NJCAA Division II Tournament. Biggs and Bessard won 48 games for Pima; both played in the 2015-16 season but red-shirted last year.