Wednesday evening would have set the stage for a tremendous battle between the top two Division-II programs in the ACCAC Conference, minus Scottsdale JC this season. But after Phoenix College (7-11, 2-8) was heavily penalized by the conference earlier this season for having an ineligible player, and having to forfeit numerous games, the stage became much different, as the conference's top two Division-II programs over the past 10 years faced off in another amazing battle.
Pima Junior College (14-4, 7-3) has been the hottest team in the conference, winning their last 9 games in a row under terrific head coach Brian Peabody and his staff. After finishing runner-up for the Division-II NJCAA national championship last season, Pima looks prepared to make another strong run again at a conference title and further.
While the game had a much different meaning regarding the conference standings on Wednesday evening, the overall meaning and game preparation was no different from year's past, as these two storied ACCAC programs have competed against one another consistently in epic fashion over the past decade.
While Phoenix College's season was ruined by the ACCAC's decision to forfeit many of the games won by Phoenix College this season, terrific first-year Head Coach Duane Eason, a native of New Jersey and a hard-knocks teacher of the game, would have his troops well prepared to face Pima on their home floor Wednesday evening.
Pima would play inspired basketball in the game's first half, as they would look to improve on their strong conference record. The Aztecs would jump out to a big, 14-point lead, 46-32 with 3:34 left to play in the first half, after a strong two-handed dunk on the break by athletic 6-foot-4 freshman guard Cole Gerken. After another layup from Gerken and a transition layup from 6-foot-9 sophomore Robert Wilson, Pima would jump out to a 48-33 lead.
But Phoenix College would not lay down. Consecutive three-pointers by 5-foot-9 freshman guard Habib Arogundade, then a steal on the inbounds by talented 6-foot-4 sophomore guard Deron Kyle and a layup, and then another transition basket by gifted 6-foot-5 sophomore wing Darius Goudeau, and Phoenix would narrow Pima's lead to 7-points, 50-43.
The game would be played at a rapid pace by both teams, as both programs would storm down the floor for transition opportunities throughout the first half.
While Pima would eventually take a 54-48 lead into halftime, Goudeau would give Phoenix the game's momentum going into the half, after he would connect on a long-range three-pointer over the outstretched hands of a Pima defender at the halftime buzzer.
In the second half, Phoenix would continue their momentum and eventually take the game's lead. With 5:40 left to play in the contest, Phoenix would hold on to a nice 93-86 lead, before 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Parker Anderson would storm down the floor for a big two-handed dunk on the break to give the Bears a 95-86 lead with 5 minutes left to play.
After a strong three-point play from Pima's 6-foot-2 freshman guard Jordan Robinson, Goudeau would knock down another big three-pointer after being fouled on the play. Goudeau would miss the free-throw. Then 6-foot-3 freshman guard Lamar Mitchell would make his presence felt in the game. Mitchell would knock down a big three-pointer, and then make a nice assist to Habib in transition to put Phoenix College up 103-92 late. After a strong rebound inside and put-back from 6-foot-9 freshman post Christiano Gomes, Phoenix College would not look back in the game.
Phoenix College would pull out the big 111-96 home victory over Pima, in an exciting game in which they would outscore Pima 63 to 42 in the game's second half. Phoenix's outburst in this game proved just how explosive they are and can be. It is extremely unfortunate that the Bears will not be able to fight for this year's conference title now, but, one thing is for sure. Under the leadership of Duane Eason, they will still be fighting all season long.