In exciting fashion on Friday evening on the campus of Phoenix College, the Pima Aztecs overcame their season rival - defeating #11 nationally ranked Phoenix College 102-99 to capture the Region-I, Division-II title. It is the program's first region championship since 2009, also Pima head coach Brian Peabody's first championship since he came to Pima in four seasons.
In a very even matched contest, Pima (21-11), the #2 seed in the tournament, held a narrow advantage over #1 seed Phoenix College (25-7) at the half, 51-49.
In the first half, Phoenix would start the game on an impressive 13 to 2 run. Pima would not make their first field goal of the contest until three minutes into the game. Pima would then go on a 14-3 run of their own - tieing the game at 16 all.
Phoenix held a slight lead for much of the first half and were up by as much as seven points (38-31), before a three-pointer by freshman guard Alize Travis would give Pima their first lead of the game at 43-42 with 3:52 left in the half. Another 13-2 run by Pima would give the Aztecs a 51-44 lead late in the first half.
Phoenix would then come out in the second half on fire - going on a big 10-3 run to take the lead back from Pima, and leading 59-54. Pima's 6-foot-5 sophomore wing Emilio Acedo would hit a three-pointer on the next trip down the court. After another three-pointer from Travis, Pima would take back the lead, 62 to 61.
The Aztecs and the Bears would go back and forth in the second half, with both teams fighting hard to take an advantage in the game. The second half would include (8) lead changes and (4) ties.
Down 78-75 with 7:17 left to Phoenix, Pima would go on another run, and this time when it counted. The Aztecs went on a 9-0 run that was capped off by a two-handed dunk in traffic from 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Deion James. James' dunk would give Pima a 84-78 lead.
Phoenix College's terrific sophomore point guard Jonathan Matthews, a 1st Team All-ACCAC selection this season, would ignite late for the Bears - knocking down (3) consecutive three-pointers to keep Phoenix College in the hunt. With Pima up 90-88 after a three-pointer from Jonathan Matthews, the Bears called timeout with 2:43 left.
With 1:01 left to play in the game, Pima's Acedo would come up huge for his team - hitting a clutch three-pointer when it counted - giving Pima a seven-point advantage, 95-88.
Then, in fitting fashion, Deion James would help close it out for Pima - hitting a pair of free throws with 9.8 seconds left to play, and putting Pima ahead 100-96. After another three-pointer from Matthews, Pima's Acedo would ice the contest and the conference title with two more free-throws of his own.
Deion James was named the Region-I, Division-II championship game's Most Valuable Player after he scored a game-high 27 points and had 12 rebounds - his 19th double-double of the season. He also went 11 for 12 from the free throw line in the win.
"Everything was on the line. This might have been one of the greatest things I've ever witnessed," James said.
Emilio Acedo also finished with a game-high 27 points of his own on 8 for 11 shooting, which also included 6 for 9 from three-point range. Pima freshman guard Isaiah Murphy also scored 20 points off the bench.
Phoenix College was led by the play of sophomore guard Johnathan Matthews who finished with 23 points, and freshman guard Lavette Parker who contributed 19 points.
Pima will now advance to the NJCAA Division-II National Tournament in Danville, IL on Mar. 21-25.
This was the second year that Phoenix College lost in the ACCAC D-II Conference championship game.