The Bucks (22-7) will now advance to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas. The tournament opens March 19, with the NJCAA announcing tournament seeding and brackets on March 12 at 11:30 a.m. on www.njcaatv.com.
Motlow entered the tournament as the No. 2 seed, while Southwest was No. 1. The Bucks opened tournament play by beating No. 7 Columbia State 92-61 on Saturday, then got past Cleveland State 62-52 in Monday’s semifinal.
The tournament championship is the College’s sixth in men’s basketball and the third in the past six years. Motlow also won titles in 1973, 1982, 1984, 2013 and 2017. This year will be Motlow’s third NJCAA tournament appearance, having gone 1-1 in 2013 and 2-1 last year, when they reached the final eight for the first time.
First-year Head Coach Arthur Latham has kept the Bucks on track despite multiple obstacles throughout the year, including losing two of his top players early in the season. Returning sophomore Javion Hamlet, a second team All-American last year, sat out the season with an injury, while 6-11 post player Nick Marshall, a transfer from the University of Memphis, played only four games before injuries suffered in an automobile accident ended his season.
But Latham, along with assistant coaches Zach Holt and Nick Porter, held the squad together around a nucleus of seven players; five sophomores and two redshirt freshmen, who experienced last year’s championship and brought that experience to the locker room and to the playing floor this season.
Isaiah Hart, who was named TCCAA/Region VII Tournament MVP, along with regular season TCCAA Player of the Year Rashawn Fredericks, second team All-Conference selection Kevonte Corley, Dillon Smith and Chad Emmons all played critical roles in last year’s title. Leo Castillo and Kin Webster were redshirts last year and became key ingredients in Latham’s rotation this year.
Transfer sophomore David Fraser stepped into the starting post position when Marshall went down and has been a solid contributor all season. Freshmen Derrick Rayford, Anthony Yarbrough, Zaire Swaby, Hayden Edmondson and Justin Hill have each played critical minutes and successfully filled their roles, an important ingredient on any championship team.
The Bucks were never seriously threatened in any of their three wins during the TCCAA/Region VII Tournament. Their dismantling of Columbia State on Saturday saw Motlow hit 14-32 three pointers and force the Chargers into 19 turnovers. Hart had 21 points and four assists, Corley scored 16 with 11 rebounds, Fredericks had 10 points, five boards and four assists, and Yarbrough hit 7-7 free throws and scored 11.
Monday’s win over Cleveland was somewhat methodical, with the Bucks holding a slight advantage for most of the game before extending their lead to double digits at the end. Motlow didn’t shoot exceptionally well, only 43 percent from the field, although the Bucks hit 7-19 three pointers. Once again the defense was tenacious, forcing the Cougars into 16 turnovers.
Fredericks led the way with 17 points, while Hart scored 16 and added six rebounds and four steals. Corley notched a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Castillo hit a pair of three pointers and scored 10 points.
Tuesday’s championship game saw the Bucks come out of the gate fast and never let up. Motlow hit four 3-pointers in the first eight minutes to grab a 21-14 lead. A 9-2 run increased the lead to 30-16 with 8:25 remaining in the first half. The Saluqis, who entered the game ranked No. 18 in the nation, gathered themselves and cut the Motlow lead to 39-30 at intermission.
Southwest Tennessee closed the gap to 50-43 with 11 minutes to play, but it was as close as the Saluqis would get as the Bucks finished the game on a 28-18 run. Hart, who is Motlow’s all-time leader in steals, was the sparkplug as he stole the ball and scored on layups on two straight possessions. Fredericks closed the door on any Southwest comeback hopes with a long three pointer with 3:42 to go, giving Motlow its biggest lead at 73-50.
The Bucks didn’t shoot exceptionally well from the field, connecting on only 38.7 percent of their shots and 9-27 three pointers. However, Motlow was on target at the free throw line, hitting 21-23, including Corley 8-8 and Hart and Fredericks 5-5 each. The Bucks forced the Saluqis into an amazing 31 turnovers.
Hart led five double-digit scorers with 19 points and added five assists and five steals. Fredericks scored 14 with five rebounds and four steals, Corley had 12 points with 10 rebounds and four steals, Castillo scored 11, including 3-4 three pointers, and added five rebounds, and Fraser had 10 points with four rebounds and three steals. Webster added seven points, Smith three and Emmons scored two.
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