Ocala, FL---The Chipola men's basketball team is headed back to the state championship game thanks to a semifinal win Friday over Polk 76-66.
The Indians getting 20 points from Panhandle Conference Player of the Year Sam Cassell, Jr. in earning the berth into Saturday's championship game against St. Pete, which beat Pensacola in the other semifinal.
The Indians, now 24-5, able to take a first half lead with a 15-0 run midway through the first half, giving them a 30-15 lead. The Eagles able to get that deficit down to 8 by halftime, 41-33 Chipola had the lead at the break.
In the second half, the Eagles would get within 6, but Chipola was able to answer every charge with one big bucket after another, a 9-0 spurt taking the lead to 13 late. Chipola holding on from there for the 10 point win.
“It took a complete 40-minute game by our guys,” Chipola coach Patrick Blake said. “(Polk) is a great team and they really came at us, but I am proud of our guys for withstanding some of those big runs.”
“There were two big spurts that hurt us, but overall I was pleased with how hard our guys played,” Polk coach Matt Furjanic said. “We wanted to be playing our best basketball at the end of the season and I thought we accomplished that.”
Torian Graham, Jamaar McKay and Demetrius Floyd each contributed 13 points for the Indians.
Graham bounced back from a four-point game in the tournament opener, keyed by a 3-of-6 effort from beyond the arc, which combined with a 4-of-7 mark by Cassell helped Chipola make 8-of-23.
“We’ve got some quality depth,” Blake said. “We told our guys if they didn’t have the type of game that they wanted to have in the first one that they had a chance to help us in the second game and then if the same thing goes for (Saturday).
“It’s going to take a total effort and hopefully we will come out and defend well.”
Polk held a 45-26 rebounding edge, but saw the Indians score 25 points off 21 turnovers.
The Eagles also saw Chipola enjoy a 32-18 edge in bench scoring.
“I thought we did a better job of controlling the tempo in the second half,” Furjanic said. “But turnovers hurt us and Chipola really shot the ball well.
“They’re a great team.”
With the win, Chipola will turn its attention to St. Petersburg College in the state finals on Saturday at 5 p.m.
The Indians knocked off the Titans 79-76 earlier this season in the Florida Men’s Colleges Shootout in Gainesvlle.
“I think they’re playing their best basketball,” Blake said. “(SPC coach Earnest Crumbley) gets them to play so hard. It’s going to take a total team effort once again.”