This archived article was written by: Micah Iverson
With collegiate conference tournaments, an “anything can happen” mentality has to be kept in mind on behalf of all who participate. With players who play with nothing but heart and sheer determination, a conference championship and a chance to play in a national tournament lies in the not-so-distant future.
Twin Falls, Idaho, home of the College of Southern Idaho Golden Eagles, played host to this year’s Scenic West Athletic Conference tournament held on March 9-12, and would prove to keep all in attendance on the edge of their seats. Eastern Utah would play some of their best basketball in recorded history even breaking a 13 year-old record along the way.
Going into this year’s Region 18 Conference Tournament, the Golden Eagles had dropped their previous five games in a row, one to Dixie and two each to Snow and Salt Lake Community. The Golden Eagles were to face last year’s regular season champions, the Dixie State Rebels, who they had already beaten two out of three times earlier in the season. Due to some legal troubles, two players on Dixie’s roster were suspended and wouldn’t make the trip to the tournament.
The Golden Eagles went into the contest confident that they could repeat their winning ways against the Rebels. Seeded sixth with Dixie fifth, the Golden Eagles started the March 9 game 3-20 (15 percent) from the floor, but due to Jamaal Smith’s eight-out-of-eight from the free-throw line and a late Eastern Utah run, the Golden Eagles cut the lead to just two at half.
Shooting just 25 percent in the first half, Eastern Utah came out rejuvenated to take an early second half lead. Eastern Utah’s Chris Lang, who was held scoreless in the first half, had all his 13 points in the second stanza of play. After a John Rogers put-back dunk and Belford Williams’ 4-6 shooting late, the Golden Eagles wouldn’t look back and finished the game outscoring Dixie 44-34 in the second half. Eastern Utah salvaged 38 percent shooting despite their first half shooting woes. The key to the victory would be that CEU won the rebounding battle 45-37 (17 off.). Leading the Golden Eagles in the win was Eldridge Henderson with 16 points, and Lang with 13 and six rebounds.
With the win, the Golden Eagles would then have to face the regular season SWAC champions of CSI on Friday, March 11. CSI had the first-round bye with their number-one seeding and the rest would prove to fair them well when the tournament ultimately ended. With renewed confidence that they could contend with any opponent, the Golden Eagles came out firing against CSI Friday night and took an early 11-point lead on three three-pointers by Jamaal Smith. After CSI’s head Coach Gib Arnold took a time out, CSI came roaring back and answered with three-point bombs of their own. Three-point shooting would prove to be record breaking at the games end. CSI maintained their excellent shooting, but were matched on every shot by the Golden Eagles of CEU. By the halftime horn, the score looked like a full-game total, all due to the fact that both teams shot exactly 50 percent from the field and made a combined 22 three-pointers.
One would think that this type of play couldn’t continue, but that person would have been wicked wrong. Both teams once again came out on fire and kept the scoring trend which was creeping toward the century mark on behalf of both teams. If CSI wasn’t making three-pointers they were hitting their big men in the paint. CSI starting center Mohamed Kone, who won tournament MVP honors, would finish the game with 30 points and 16 rebounds. Because Eastern Utah was out-sized in the paint, they employed a sort of hack-a-Shaq mentality to send the CSI big men to the free-throw line. This strategy would end up working with both of CSI’s big men shooting just 11-26 for the game.
It was too much too late, and despite CEU playing the best basketball of the year, they fell to the now Region 18 Champions (they went on to beat SLCC in the championship game the following night 70-62) CSI Golden Eagles, 120-110 (not a misprint). Eastern Utah shot 46.9 percent from the field and 17-32 (53 percent) from the three-point line. The Golden Eagles broke a school record with 17 three-pointers, breaking the old record of 15 in a game from 1992 against Hill Air Force Base. They also tied a school record with 32 attempts, tying the old record set in 2001 in a game against UVSC. Leading CEU in the loss was Smith with 27 on 8-14 shooting (5-6 from three). Chris Lang, who coincidentally was named to the SWAC All-region First Team, ended his CEU basketball days with 23 points, five assists, and four rebounds. Henderson also had a stellar game with 20 points, 19 of which came in the second half.
With the season over and recruiting on the minds of coaches Bryan Zollinger and Brock Erickson, the Golden Eagle basketball team has to be satisfied with their effort in the Region 18 Conference Tournament. They finished the year 7-11 in SWAC play, and 18-12 overall, with a 1-1 conference tournament record. With another year in the books, you can bet the Golden Eagles will be back next year ready to contend for the all-coveted Scenic West Athletic Conference title.