This archived article was written by: Riley Spears
Last weekend, the College of Eastern Utah Eagles did something they have only accomplished three times in the school’s 70-year history- making it to the Scenic West Athletic Conference title game. The only other time CEU reached this prestige was in 1963 and 1997. They spent the majority of their season ranked in the top 20 of the NJCAA.
Two weeks ago, CEU men’s basketball team hosted nationally ranked Salt Lake Community College in their home court. SLCC had won the last close contest in Salt Lake City by a score of 72-67. CEU had a lot to prove to their home crowd and every Eagle fan went home satsified both nights.
Friday night’s game started the same way it ended, shot for shot with neither team really having an edge. The crowd was out in huge numbers in the BDAC, giving CEU an extra edge. In the first half, the Bruins went into the locker room at the half up by only two with a score of 33-31.
In the second half, SLCC started to pull away until scoring machine Darington Hobson took over scoring basket after basket and seemed to have an answer for everything SLCC countered with. Nick Thompson tied up the game with a dunk at the end of regulation sending it to overtime.
In OT, the Eagles went basket for basket with the Bruins with neither team gaining an advantage. CEU displayed better shooting and shot 53 percent from the field to pull out the three-point upset. With a final score of 83-80, CEU finally got a break and held on for a close win.
Hobson was the leading scorer for the Eagles with 25 points, 13 boards and nine assists, one shy of a triple double. Phillip “Tree” Thomas also contributed 14 points, giving CEU a little taste of what he was going to do in the next few games. Stephen Franklin was the only other Eagle in double figures with 10 points.
CEU again faced SLCC the next day and both teams were looking for a win after an emotionally and physically draining game the night before. The teams were evenly matched and the shoot-out from the previous night continued. At hafltime, CEU went into the locker room with the lead 36-35.
The second half of the game was nearly identical to the first with both teams playing hard. This time around SLCC had a slightly better shooting percentage shooting 43 percent to CEU’s 41 percent. CEU shot well from the charity stripe at 75 percent. With nine seconds left, SLCC had the ball to tie the game and missed the crucial shots to give the Eagles the three-point win, 76-73.
SWAC Tournament – North Idaho
In the first game pitted the Eagles against Snow.CEU had the obvious advantage winning the last three games against the Badgers. The game started off in Snow’s favor with the Badger’s leading until CEU’s “Tree” Thomas went on a 14-0 rampage and never looked back. The Eagles went into the locker room up by four.
In the second half, CEU dominated the score sheet and went on another six-point run. CEU got up to a 20-point lead and the Badgers started chipping away at the lead, but didn’t have enough at the end. CEU ended up defeating Snow 76-62.
The scoring was led by Thomas showing off his big-man presence in the paint scoring 17 points. Franklin also had a good game with 15 points and Cliff Colimon scored 12.
The next game was against the number-one team in the conference and the only team that CEU had not beaten this year: North Idaho College. The winner of the game knew that they would face SLCC in the championship game and the right to represent the SWAC in the cross-over region game to qualify for the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan., over spring break.
CEU ended up getting a big win against NIC that was surprisingly easy for CEU, with the Eagles winning by 13 points by a final score of 80-67.
The scoring was a very balanced attack for CEU with an amazing six players in double figures. The high scorer for the Eagles was Thomas with 13 points, Mike Scott was next with 12 points; three players contributed 11 points; Thompson, England and Hobson who also pulled down 15 rebounds.
After the win CEU was in unfamiliar territory, the conference title game. The Eagles would once again face SLCC, this time for the SWAC title. Both teams deserved to be there, but the Eagles had played one more game, which may have been the deciding factor in the game. After two big wins against Salt Lake Community College, the Eagles had built a lot of momentum going into the region tournament.
The game started off with CEU down early. The Eagles could not stop the play of SLCC’s DJ Wright from Canada who scored 21 in the first half, including an impressive four for four from behind the arc. At halftime, the Eagles were down 41-29 and could see there season coming to an end
In the second half CEU couldn’t get out of the hole they dug themselves. The Eagles had terrible ball control and too many turnovers. Finally with about 7:30 left, the Eagles woke up and got some big shots from England, Isiah Williams and Chandler Pearson. SLCC then took back over the game; CEU did hit some big shots in the game after that especially Franklin who hit some more key three pointers. In the end they couldn’t pull out the win and lost 80-67.
Leading the scoring against SLCC was Hobson with 15 points, Williams 14 including four huge threes. Thomas finished with 13 points ending his great tourney play. Franklin scored 11 points and Pearson ended with nine.
The SWAC Conference Champion SLCC Bruins faced the Conference 1 winner in Arizona to decide who will go to Kansas and play for a national championship next week.
CEU ended there impressive season with a record of 26-7, capping off one of the program’s best seasons in the school’s history. Head Coach Chris Craig showed what he is capable of doing as a head coach. This season showed not only Price, but the nation, that CEU is becoming a contender for one of the elite teams.
CEU will lose sophomores: Mike Scott, Darington Hobson, Stephen Franklin, Chandler Pearson, Aaron England, Phillip “Tree” Thomas and Chris Bradley.
Coach Craig, Coach Owens and Coach Becheli have already hit the recruiting trail to replace the seven talented athletes who will be moving on next year. Freshman Isiah Williams, Cliff Colimon, Melvin Williams, Nick Thompson and Fernando DeFavari have big shoes to follow to keep the tradition of winning Coach Craig has provided during his two seasons as head coach of the Eagles.
Coach Craig is impressed with the fan turnout all season and wants to thank everyone for their support of his program this season.
Update: SLCC beat Western Arizona Tuesday night by 20 points and head to Hutchinson, Kan., next week for NJCAA nationals. Earlier in the season, CEU beat Western Arizona by 15 points.