March 16, 2009

*Courtesy of Florida Southern Athletics

LAKELAND, Fla. - For the second night in a row, the top-seeded Moccasins trailed for most of the game, and for the second night in a row, it really didn't matter in the end. This one just took a little bit longer. With Brandon Jenkins hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer in overtime, Florida Southern pulled out a 95-92 win over 4th-seeded Arkansas Tech in the NCAA South Region Tournament semifinals.

Arkansas Tech (23-9) scored the first points of overtime and the last, but in between Florida Southern (29-6) did enough to earn its first overtime NCAA playoff win since 1982. That one came in double OT against Kentucky Wesleyan and put the Mocs in the national championship game. Twice since then, the Mocs had lost overtime games that ended their season short of that goal, but this time they used the extra session to advance to the region title game for the first time since 2000.

Neither team led by more than eight points the entire night, and for the last seven minutes of regulation, neither team led by more than three. When Arkansas Tech's Thiago Cordeiro hit an improbable 3-pointer at the buzzer to send it to overtime, it was the 13th time the score was tied (84-84). That 3-point basket was only the fourth of the season for the 6-10 center and only the third of the game for Arkansas Tech, which out-scored Florida Southern 58-26 in the paint.

Talk about improbable. The Moccasins took the floor in overtime, and won, without either of their top two scorers, as both Rob Eldridge (15.6 points per game) and Rion Rayfield (12.1 points per game) had already fouled out. Eldridge picked up his fifth foul with 5:24 remaining in the second half, though he still managed to score 10 points and hand out three assists in 14 minutes of action.

Arkansas Tech won the overtime tip and immediately scored on a layup by Brandon Friedel that gave the Wonder Boys an 86-84 lead. Friedel then blocked a 3-point attempt by Jenkins, but seconds later the Wonder Boys turned the ball over and the Mocs got a three-point play from John Thompson to go ahead 87-86.

Neither team could score during the next minute of play, then the score changed hands three times over the next 45 seconds, leaving Arkansas Tech with a 90-89 lead with 2:05 remaining. When Cordeiro blocked a shot by Zach Smith, the Wonder Boys had a chance to expand on their lead, but were unable to do so, giving Florida Southern the ball again with less than a minute to play.

The Mocs missed two shots on their next possession, but after the second miss, Smith grabbed a big offensive rebound, setting up a 3-pointer by Jenkins from in front of the Moccasin bench. The raucous crowd barely had time to catch their breath before Smith came up with a steal near midcourt with 38 seconds to play. After a timeout, the Wonder Boys fouled Braxton Williams and the fifth-year senior made both free throws to make the score 94-90.

With Arkansas Tech desperately trying to get back in the game, Friedel missed a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining and Renard Allen was fouled on the rebound. That gave Arkansas Tech a chance to again make it a one-possession game with 16 seconds on the clock, but Allen missed both free throws; he had been 11-for-12 from the line prior to that. Smith then made one foul shot on the other end for Florida Southern, giving the Mocs their largest lead of the game at 95-90.

Allen scored on a layup as time expired to provide the final margin as the Moccasins improved to 15-1 on their home court this season.

The Moccasins may not like playing from behind, but for the second night in a row, they won despite trailing for most of the game. The Mocs led 2-0 and 12-10, and that was it for the first half. Their second lead was erased when Arkansas Tech scored four points on one possession after Rayfield was whistled for a technical foul. Allen converted both two free throws and a layup by Cordeiro gave the Wonder Boys a lead they wouldn't give up until early in the second half.

Jenkins got the Mocs going after halftime with a basket just after the break, then hit a 3-pointer (his first of the game) that gave them a brief 44-43 lead. The Wonder Boys would then re-take the lead, only to have Jenkins get it back for Florida Southern at 46-45. When the Wonder Boys took another one-point lead a minute later, it was Jenkins again who put the Mocs back in front when he was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and converted all three free throws to put FSC ahead 53-51.

That one didn't last long either as Laithe Massey put together a three-point play for Arkansas Tech at the other end and Troy Marcus followed that with another bucket. They'd eventually push their lead to 67-60 with 9:50 remaining, but the Mocs got back-to-back 3-pointers from Eldridge and Rayfield to keep things from getting out of hand.

Even then, Florida Southern still couldn't re-claim the lead until Jenkins drained another 3-pointer with 2:12 to play, snapping a 75-75 tie. The Mocs then held the Wonder Boys off with two free throws from Braxton Williams and two from Terry Jenkins with less than 20 seconds to play in regulation, but Cordeiro was able to hit his game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime.

Brandon Jenkins ended up leading the Moccasins with 23 points and also had eight rebounds. Thompson finished with 19 points and nine boards (going 11-for-13 from the line), Rayfield scored 16 and Williams scored 12.

Arkansas Tech was led by Cordeiro, who had 19 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks and three steals. Troy Marcus scored 18 points, Allen scored 17, and Chad Henderson added 16. The Wonder Boys were hurt by free throw shooting though, shooting just 55 percent from the line (17-for-31). Florida Southern shot 85 percent (34-for-40).

With the win, Florida Southern advances to its ninth regional championship game. The Mocs have won each of the previous eight. This time, they'll face 2nd-seeded Christian Brothers on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.