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Bobcats advance with 81-79 win over Highland
 March 19, 2014

By Shawn Wansley, JCJC Sports Information Director

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – Jay Ladner delivered on something a couple of Jones County Junior College fans had asked him before the NJCAA Division I Basketball Tournament.

“Y’all said y’all wanted an exciting game to watch,” Ladner said on the way to the interview room after Tuesday afternoon’s thrilling, 81-79 victory by the Bobcats over Highland Community College (Ill.) in the opening round of the tournament here at the Hutchinson Sports Arena.

The 24-5 Bobcats, seeded No. 11, will now face sixth-seeded Hill College (Texas) at 8 p.m. on Wednesday in the ‘Sweet 16.’

Highland ends the year at 27-8

The Bobcats led for most of the game, but the Cougars took the lead briefly in the final eight minutes. But JCJC quickly responded and got the lead back for good with just under seven minutes to play.

“I am extremely proud of our guys,” Ladner said. “I thought they fought through some difficult circumstances. It was not really anybody’s fault, but there were some key things that went against us. We had a ‘book’ technical early in the game, which I thought kind of kept us from blowing it out and then we got called for a personal technical later.

“We had a call overturned against us there late when all we had to do was inbound the basketball. We did a poor job of executing there. But I was pleased with the resiliency of our players.  It’s been like that all year. When the going gets tough, they get going.”

The game was certainly entertaining, especially in the final minutes.

A layup by Thaddeus “Pop” Hall put JCJC ahead 73-70 with 4:02 left, but HCC’s Deon Andrews answered to make it 73-72 with 3:39 to play.

Leo Garrett then hit a 3-pointer out of the right corner to put the Bobcats up 76-72 with 3:23 left. HCC’s Grant Prusator hit two free throws to make it 76-74 with 3:03 left.

Leroy “Truck” Fludd scored for JCJC at the 2:12 mark to make it 78-74, but Prusator hit his eighth 3-pointer of the game to make it 78-77 with 1:56 to play. Hall’s two free throws made it 80-77 at the 1:33 mark, but Joseph Gripper got credit for a basket on a goaltend with 1:03 left to make it 80-79.

The Bobcats then missed a shot and Highland got the rebound with a chance to go ahead, but Prusator misfired on another 3-point effort. JCJC’s Bryce Jones got the rebound and got the ball to Fludd, who was fouled hard near midcourt.

Fludd made one of two foul shots to give JCJC an 81-79 lead with 12.4 seconds left.

The Cougars brought the ball downcourt and would lose the ball out of bounds.

With 2.8 seconds left, JCJC tried to inbounds the ball. It was knocked out of bounds with 1.5 seconds showing. Initially, the ball was given to the Bobcats.

But after a review of the replay, the officials gave ball possession to Highland and put 2.2 seconds on the clock.

Andrews got a look at a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it was no good and the 19th-ranked Bobcats had recorded the first-ever victory in school history in the NJCAA Division I Tournament.

“When he first shot it, I didn’t think it was going in because it was kind of flat,” Ladner said of Highland’s final shot. “But when it bounced straight up in the air I thought to myself, it’s going to bounce off the top of the backboard and fall in.

“We were very fortunate.”

A key to the outcome was not letting Prusator get as many touches late in the game.

The 6-foot freshman guard made eight 3-pointers and finished with 32 points, but Ladner felt Hall’s defense affected Prusator a bit more late in the game.

“My hat’s off to Prusator for Highland,” he said. “He put on a clinic out there shooting the ball. But I think when we put Pop on him, he slowed him up enough for us to take the lead and hold on.”

Hall said it was crucial to not let Prusator get away from him.

“I just had to stay on him,” Hall said. “I just had to locate him and stay with him. As a team, we just like to battle and we won’t back down from a challenge.  When we are down, we fight back.”

Ladner also credited Christopher “CJ” White with having some critical minutes as a reserve.

“CJ White came off the bench and really gave us some strong minutes,” he said. “When they had taken momentum in the game, I thought our players responded well.”

Even though it was JCJC’s first time ever on the national stage, the Bobcats were not intimidated. They scored the game’s first eight points and led 17-12 when Johnny Zuppardo scored with 10:27 on the clock in the first half.

Highland cut the lead to 20-19 with 9:12 left when James Boone scored.

But the Bobcats outscored the Cougars 16-8 the rest of the half and took a 36-27 lead at the buzzer at halftime when Darris McLendon got a dunk.

“We have a great group of guys and they are battlers,” Ladner said. “Nothing really fazes them too much. They just looked at it like it was another game and that was evidenced by our start.”

JCJC took its longest lead of the game at 57-47 with 13:12 in the game when Hall connected on back-to-back 3-pointers.

But the Cougars went on a 16-2 run and took their longest lead at 63-59 with 7:58 left when Andrews scored.

“Sometimes, we don’t handle success well,” Ladner said. “We were really clicking out there and got the game up to 10 points. But I thought our defense started breaking down then when it looked like we might blow the game open.

“But Highland was a well-coached and well-prepared team. Coach (Nathan) Courtney does a great job with them.”

JCJC placed five players in double figures with Hall and Fludd scoring 18 points each. Zuppardo added 15, Jones had 13 and Garrett finished with 11. Fludd had 10 rebounds and Zuppardo finished with seven. Jones had six assists.

Prusator had 32 points for the Cougars, including an 8-of-13 effort from 3-point range. Andrews added 17 and Boone had 12. Marvin Jones finished with 13 rebounds and Gripper had six assists.

The Bobcats were 26-of-68 from the field, including 10-of-24 from 3-point range, for 38.2 percent. JCJC was 19-of-24 from the free throw line.

Highland was 26-of-60 from the field, including 11-of-23 from 3-point range, for

43.3 percent. The Cougars were 16-of-20 from the free throw line for 80 percent.

JCJC outrebounded Highland, 44-33.

The teams combined for 21 3-pointers.

Now, the Bobcats turn their attention to the Hill College Rebels, 26-7.

“We look forward to playing in the ‘Sweet 16,” Ladner said. “Our goal, whether we lose or win, is to win the national championship.”

Wednesday’s game will air on www.njcaatv.com.

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