March 19, 2009

Courtesy of Cal Poly Pomona Athletics

LAIE, Hawaii – The thought crossed one’s mind as the Brigham Young University Hawaii pep band played “Eye of the Tiger’’ – the theme song from the motion picture Rocky III – prior to the Seasiders-Cal Poly Pomona NCAA Division II West Region title game.

The thought: Well, if Rocky could deliver an upset, why not the Broncos?

And what an upset it was.

On Wednesday night in the nation’s 50th state, Rocky showed his face again in the form of the Cal Poly Pomona Broncos men’s basketball team, which took on No. 3 Brigham Young Hawaii, winners of 24 straight and the West Region’s top seed.

Senior Larry Gordon (Pomona) placed a put-back shot with 3.6 seconds left and the Broncos went on to upset the host Seasiders 59-58 before a raucous crowd of 4,221 at the Canon Center.

“We didn’t change anything that we hadn’t done all season,’’ said coach Greg Kamansky, who will lead his Broncos to their third NCAA Elite Eight Appearance in the last seven years, an unprecedented feat in the history of CPP men's basketball and the best streak among California Collegiate Athletic Association. “We spread the court and played decisive. I thought we played tentative for the first 35 minutes.’’

The Broncos will face Central champion Southwest Minnesota State at 2:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday afternoon in Springfield, Mass., in the opening round of the Elite Eight.

Inside the game’s final five minutes, the Broncos took control. Trailing 56-43 with 6:39, the Broncos held off the athletic Seasiders with a shocking 16-2 run to end the game.

What was even more surprising was the fact that the Broncos held BYUH without a field goal in that span. Seasiders’ senior Lucas Alves hit a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left to give his team a 58-57 lead.

After Alves’ free throws, the Broncos called time out. They brought the ball up court and Gordon held the ball and drove inside. He placed a shot that missed, but he rebounded the ball , placed it up off the glass and the ball dropped through with 3.6 seconds remaining.

“We were going to work it on a ball screen,’’ said Gordon, who finished the night with 18 points, 15 rebounds and was named the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player. “The defender over played and I put up a shot. I was able to rebound, put it back and I’m thankful that it found a way to drop through the net.’’

The double-double was Gordon’s 11th on the season and his 34th in his career. In his three West Region games he secured a double-double in each game and totaled 74 points and 38.

“To be down 13 and come back … we believe in what coach says,’’ Gordon said. “He told us to calm down, slow down  and dig down on defense.’’

BYUH led by as many as 15 – 42-27 – on Alves’ 3-pointer with 14:11 remaining in the game.

CPP answered, though, with a 10-2 run in the next two minutes when junior Dahir Nasser drove in and scored a layup with 12:12 and BYUH led, 44-37.

Cal Poly Pomona made its thrilling run when it trailed 56-43 with 6:39 remaining. A pair of layups from Tobias Jahn (Babenhausen, Germany) and junior Robert Summers (Los Angeles) cut the lead to inside 10 at 56-47.

Summers hit the second of two free throws and Gordon hit a pair of free throws and the Broncos drew to within 6 at 56-50 with 3:21 left.

BYUH turned the ball over twice on its next two possessions and Jahn drove inside with a strong layup and the Broncos got inside five points – 56-52 –  for the first time since the first three minutes of the game.

The Seasiders had a chance to increase its lead back to six, but Alves missed two free throws; a rare occurrence for the 75-percent FT shooter on the season.

The Broncos drove and kicked the ball out to Thompson, who buried a 3-pointer – his second on the game – and CPP silenced the crowd as it drew within one point at 56-55 with 1:47 left.

BYUH missed two jump shots – one by Nathan Sims and the other from Jermaine Odjegba – and the Broncos earned their first lead of the game on Jahn’s two free throws with 53 seconds left.

Jahn, who joined Gordon on the West Region All-Tournament team, scored 14 points with three assists. Junior Austin Swift (Santa Cruz) scored nine points – all in the first half – before fouling out of the game with 6:39 left.

Sims scored 11 and Trenson Akana had 10 for the Seasiders, who finished the season 27-2.

The Broncos held BYUH to a shocking 34 points below its season average of 92 points. The Seasiders’ 58 points was their lowest of the season.