Hutchinson Chipola (Fla.) College came a half second from ending its season with the second of back-to-back losses Thursday at the NJCAA Men's Division I Basketball Championship.
Trailing by one as time ran out, Shelton State banked in a baseline shot - but it was released less than a second after the buzzer, and Chipola won, 76-75.
"To win basketball games, we have to play smart, and we haven't played smart yet out here," Chipola coach Greg Heiar said. "I don't know what it is, but this ain't my team. We normally play extremely hard, and we play smart. We're playing hard, and we're playing together, but we're not playing smart. You can't be a collegiate players, at the next level, if you don't play smart."
The Indians were smart on the last possession. With the success they had on defense by switching from man-to-man into a zone, the players told Heiar they wouldn't switch back for the final 10 seconds.
"I told the coaches on that last possession, 'I've been in a lot of close games, I have been in a lot of them,' and told them, 'I can't believe, on the last possession, I'm in the zone,'" Heiar said. "It just hurt my pride that we had to play zone in that last possession. We're a man-to-man team, and that's what we do. That's what our reputation is in the state of Florida: tough, hard-nosed, aggressive, man-to-man defense. ... But, honestly, it was the players' decision to go with zone."
Chipola trailed by as many as 15 before changing its defense early in the second half.
The new look set the Indians up on offense, as well, and they went on 17-6 run over a six-minute period to cut their deficit to one point with nine minutes remaining.
"Our pride was at stake," said Chipola's Mario Little, a Kansas University signee. "That first game took our heart away, and we weren't going to lose two games out here - that's not Chipola basketball."
Little had something of a lackluster offensive performance, scoring 15 points on a 6-for-14 shooting night - including two ugly three-point attempts.
Foul trouble again was an issue for Little. He was on the bench for most of Chipola's second-half rally after picking up his fourth foul.
The Chicago native's biggest contribution was his relentless crashing of the boards. He finished with six rebounds, including three offensive boards - all in the final half.
Chipola will be back in action at 1 p.m. today against Itawamba (Miss.) Community College, which defeated Georgia Perimeter, 83-61, on Thursday.