It took 40 grueling minutes, but UC Riverside managed to outlast Chapman College and win the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament championship.
The Highlanders (24-4) saw Chapman whittle away a couple of big leads. But in the end they had the manpower to hold on, 86-83, in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 2,108 Saturday at Riverside Community College.
The victory gives Riverside the conference’s automatic berth into the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Division II playoffs, which begin this week.
Chapman? Well, a 17-12 record is better than most people expected, but not good enough for an at-large bid.
“A bounce, a call, a basket, a missed free throw and it would have meant victory,” Chapman Coach Rich Prospero said.
The Panthers’ biggest problem was depth. It was physical game, with 54 fouls called, 31 on Chapman. The Panthers had four players foul out, including starters Bryan Richetto, Dean Balcao and Russ Ortega.
Those three accounted for 44 of the Panthers’ points.
“I guess you could say we had more manpower,” Riverside Coach John Masi said. “I think they ran out of quality players.”
But not before throwing a scare into the Riverside, which is ranked third in the nation.
The Higlanders led by 11 points at halftime, 47-36, only to see it trimmed to five. They led by 10 with about 13 minutes left. But they could not bury the Panthers.
“When a team shoots three-pointers as well as Chapman, they’ll never be out of a game,” Masi said. “What’s seven, eight, nine points when you have four guys who shoot 50% on three-pointers?”
Chapman made six three-pointers, including three by Richetto (20 points).
Chris Jackson’s driving layup gave Riverside a 60-50 lead with 13:09 left. Then Chapman came back again.
The Panthers went on a 12-4 run, capped by a rim-bending dunk by Rog Middleton, to pull within two, 64-62, with 9:51 left.
Chapman had one chance to take the lead.
With 2:53 left, Jimmy Shorter missed the first of a one-and-one free throw and Chapman’s Rog Middleton grabbed the rebound. But before the Panthers got a chance to shoot, Richetto threw the ball out of bounds.
A pair of free throws Chris Jackson and Maurice Pullum in the last 10 seconds finally put the Highlanders over the top.
“This team never quit, I think you have to give credit to the seniors,” Prospero said.
You can also credit Chapman’s shooting for staying close. The Panthers made 62% from the field. Middleton, who scored 22 points, made eight of 11 shots, despite playing most of the second half with four fouls.
The loss was only Chapman’s second in the last eight games. Both have been to Riverside, by a total of seven points.
“That’s a team on a roll,” Masi said.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, they’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.