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BELLINGHAM, Wash. – Cal State Chico defeated rival Humboldt State 75-68 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats used what Greg Clink referred to as another “gut-tough” performance to beat the Lumberjacks for the third time this season and avenge last Saturday’s 13-point loss in the CCAA title game.

“They really kicked our butts last time,” said Wildcats redshirt freshman Jordan Semple, a product of Arcata, which is home to Humboldt State. “But we were in them from the opening tip tonight.”

The win snapped the Wildcats’ own 13-game NCAA Championship tournament losing skid and also gave the Wildcats their program record-tying 25th win of the season.

Jay Flores finished with 18 points and six assists for the Wildcats (25-7).

Semple and Amir Carraway (a sophomore) each contributed key 3-pointers and free throws down the stretch on the way to 14 points apiece. Another redshirt freshman, Jordan Barton, chipped in 11 points.

The Wildcats trailed for most of the night, but Flores found Semple for a 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 3:14 remaining that put Chico State in front for good. Carraway’s 3 from the right wing made it a six-point game with 52 seconds left.

“We have the kind of guys who want the ball at the end of the game,” said Flores. “But it is pretty special to have young guys like this who want to knock down a big shot when you need it.”

Flores flipped home a reverse layup in between those buckets in what was a critical 12-2 Chico State run.

The Wildcats made 10 consecutive free throws after that to salt the game away.

Humboldt State, which took its fifth consecutive first-round exit from the NCAA tournament, finished its season at 22-8. The Lumberjacks got 16 points and 12 rebounds from Randy Hunter and 15 points and nine rebounds from Brandon Sperling. But Scott Clark, who torched Chico State for a career-high 19 points on Saturday, was limited to just two Friday, and missed all three of his shots from the field.

“I thought our defense down the stretch was the key to the game,” said Clink. “In comparison to the CCAA championship game we played with more of an edge and more of a sense of urgency.”

The Wildcats limited Humboldt State to just three field goals during an 11-minute span that only ended when the Wildcats were up by six in the closing seconds.

The Wildcats were pleased following the game, but were not going to dwell on the win.

“Getting to the regional was a goal we set at the beginning of the year. As soon as we achieved that we started setting new goals,” said Clink. “To win the regional is definitely a lofty goal. But if you’re going to achieve something great, you have to put something out there that demands greatness.”

The second step in that process offers a huge challenge, whether they face 12th-ranked Western Washington or red-hot Grand Canyon.

“We’re definitely excited about this win. But we didn’t just come here to beat Humboldt State,” said Flores. “I’m a senior, so I selfishly want to stay with this team and keep this going as long as I possibly can.”