CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio – The Cougars earned their first trip to the NJCAA DIII national tournament with Saturday's victory against Joliet Junior College in the District II Championship game.
Mario Young's buzzer beater finished off No. 5 Joliet as the crowd erupted with cheers. Young concluded with 30 points, ten rebounds, and five assists, leading the game in the two latter categories. He was also named the game's MVP.
The Cougars maintained the lead over the nationally-ranked Wolves for the entire 40 minutes. Columbus State capitalized on their slow first half, outscoring them 46-34. However, Joliet came out strong in the second, chipping away at their deficit until it was tied in the 50 seconds of the game.
"While preparing for Joliet we knew they were a second half team," said head coach Ed Thompson. "We knew they were resilient and we've struggled in second halves. However, intense conditioning has helped our guys stay in it."
With 3.7 seconds left to go, the Cougars had possession after Jarrett Gmazel of Joliet made a layup to tie the score 83-83. Sophomore guard Chris Byrd hurled a cross court inbound pass to sophomore forward Mario Young, who grabbed the ball amidst several Joliet players. He turned around, faked a shot, stepped forward and sunk a jump shot to clinch the title.
"I think Mario wanted the ball more than anyone in that gym," said Coach Thompson. "The play was drawn up for him."
Three other Cougars scored in double figures. Matthew Gierhart drained 14 points on 6-for-10 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from the three point range. Austin Bennett came off the bench to score 12 points and smack down two blocks while Chris Byrd added ten points. Byrd and Bennett pulled down eight and six boards respectively.
Zion Parham scored nine points while Anthony Butler and Malieck Evans each chipped in four points. Jeremiah Fair-Harris rounded out the scoring with one basket. Parham and Byrd dished out four assists apiece.
- The unranked Columbus State Cougars (18-9 10-6 OCCAC) d. No. 5 Joliet Junior College (26-6, 11-3 N4C) on Sat., Mar. 3, 2018 at Ohio Christian University to clinch the District II title to punch their ticket to the NJCAA DIII national tournament.
- The Cougars won the Region XII DIII title earlier last week, defeating Lorain County Community College 90-75.
- Trips to the NJCAA DII tournament were in 2008 (runner-up), 2009 (9th place), and 2016. (Top 12 national finish). It's the first trip for Columbus State at the DIII level.
- This is Coach Ed Thompson's second trip to the national tournament.
- Seeding for the national tournament will be announced on Tue, Mar. 6.
- Columbus State outshot Joliet from the field 53.0% to 45.3%. They went 3-for-9 from the three-point range, compared to the Wolves' 7-for-26. They shot the same at the free throw line (66.7%).
- Columbus State outscored on second chance points 13-10.
- Columbus State committed more turnovers 18-12.
- Columbus State is the 14th in the nation in FG% (48.5%), 11th in rebounds per game (44.3), and 20th in assists per game (19.0).