A quick glance at the scoreboard told Rog Middleton all he needed to know: Chapman College 68, Cal State Chico 68, four seconds remaining.
Middleton had stolen the ball from David Fluker in the final seconds of the championship game of the Chico tournament and was about 70 feet from the winning basket.
Middleton drove all the way, outrunning defenders and making a layup before time expired. The 70-68 victory Sunday gave Chapman its first Chico tournament championship and left Coach Bob Boyd impressed with Middleton’s cool head.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys take two dribbles and fire it up from halfcourt,” Boyd said. “It was very good of him to have that presence of mind to check the clock and know he could do it in the time that was available.”
Entering Chapman’s final nonconference game on Saturday against Biola, Middleton, the second-leading scorer and rebounder in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. last year, is again the Panthers’ most consistent player.
Middleton, who also scored a season-high 33 points in an 82-69 semifinal victory over Texas A&I;, was the Chico tournament MVP. He leads the team in scoring (20.6 a game), rebounding (8.1) and shooting percentage (62.9%).
But Boyd said it is Middleton’s improved defensive play that has most helped the Panthers (9-5) recently. Chapman has won four of five--losing only to Cal State Fullerton--since Boyd decided to emphasize defense. Middleton’s end-of-the-game steal was one indication that it has made a difference.
“He’s been very willing to work hard in practice,” said Boyd, who noted that Middleton at times has not played as hard on defense during games.
Middleton agrees that tougher defense has made the Panthers better.
“The defense has really helped us in all aspects,” he said. “The intensity is just incredible. If we keep doing the defensive things, it should come together because the offense will always be there for us. We can score any time we want.”
Middleton is still amazed by the outcome of the championship game: “That tournament, that game was the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me in terms of basketball. I still can’t believe it . . . It gives me chills.”
Before starting the CCAA season Jan. 11 at home against Cal State Bakersfield, the Panthers will play host to Biola Saturday. Biola was ranked 23rd in the nation in the most recent National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics poll and was 10-4 entering a game against Calvin College Wednesday.
The Eagles have one of the tallest front lines Chapman will face this side of Louisiana State: Emilio Kovacic, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Arizona State; Jeff Baker, a 6-9 forward, and Rodney Camper, a 6-6 transfer from Long Beach City College.
Kovacic, was Vlade Divac’s backup on a club team that won the Yugoslav national championship in 1987, averaged 16 points and eight rebounds in the three games he played since becoming eligible Dec. 28. Camper is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds and Baker and guard Doug Newby are averaging 15 points each.
The Southern California College men’s team will meet its strongest opponent since a victory over Biola--before Kovacic became eligible--when it plays host to Evangel College of Springfield, Mo., tonight.
Evangel, which was among the teams receiving a mention in the latest NAIA poll, is SCC’s sister school, and the team is staying in the dormitories at SCC during a four-game California trip. Evangel (8-3) is also practicing at the SCC gym--the Crusaders held two practices on New Year’s Day--leading SCC Coach Bill Reynolds to wonder who would have the home-court advantage.
“They’ve been on our court more than we have in the last week,” Reynolds said.
The Vanguards (11-2) have won eight consecutive games since losing to Missouri Kansas City in November. But Reynolds said the holiday layoff made his team rusty, despite an 82-79 victory over Carthage (Wis.) Saturday.
“We took eight days off, which is really too long,” Reynolds said. “It’s almost like starting over again. After five days off we start to get panicky as coaches, and our worst fears were realized against Carthage.”
College Division Notes
Darrin Kramer, SCC’s 6-7 backup center, has been declared academically ineligible for at least three weeks.