Pima Community College sports

No. 2 Pima beats No. 1 Chandler-Gilbert 64-61 to claim NJCAA Region I Division II championship

No. 2 Pima did not score as much as it is accustomed to — the Aztecs led the nation at 104.3 points a game entering Saturday night — but it proved it can win at any pace in the biggest game of the year to date.

The Aztecs defeated top-seeded Chandler-Gilbert 64-61 on the road to win their fourth NJCAA Region I Division II title under 12-year coach Brian Peabody.

Pima won its first three region titles in consecutive seasons from 2016-17 to 2018-19.

Pima (28-4) will learn Tuesday of its seed and matchup in the NJCAA Division II tournament at Danville, Ill., that runs from March 18-23.

“It feels unbelievable; it seems like it was a long time ago (2019) that we were there, and it seemed like things kept happening to us. We finally we got it done,” Peabody said in a Pima press release. “We locked in defensively. Look at the scoreboard (61 points), you got to give our guys all the credit in the world for locking in defensively. Our game plan was let No. 30 (Andre Harris) get his points and run everybody else off. It’s exactly what happened. My guys were awesome.”

Pima took a 61-60 lead when Gabe Oldham stole the ball and took it in for a layup with 1:23 left.

After a missed jumper by Chandler-Gilbert, Cohenj Gonzales missed a drive to the basket but Kota Benson grabbed the offensive rebound.

Dillan Baker then missed a jumper and Chandler-Gilbert (27-5) had a chance to take the lead with 35 seconds left. The Coyotes committed a turnover, however, with 28.8 seconds remaining.

Gonzales made two free throws with 20.7 seconds left to put Pima ahead 63-60.

Gonzales made all 10 of his free-throw attempts in the game and finished with a team-high 20 points.

Harris, who finishewd with 22 points, was fouled with 6.3 seconds left and he made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 63-61.

Ball, who had 11 points, grabbed the rebound of Harris’ miss on the second attempt and was fouled with 5.4 seconds left.

Ball missed the front end of the one-and-one but Baker grabbed the rebound with 4.1 seconds left.

“Wes Ball came up huge tonight. He wasn’t afraid, he came in and played really strong minutes for us,” Peabody said. “Cohenj and Dillan didn’t have a great shooting game, I was afraid it would effect their free throw percentage, but they got up there and knocked them down calmly and put the game away.”

Baker made the first free throw but missed the second.

Justin Fisher grabbed the rebound for Chandler-Gilbert and took a running 3-pointer at the buzzer that was off the mark.

Jaylen Alexander, who had 10 points and nine rebounds before fouling out, was selected the ACCAC Region I Division II tournament MVP.

“It feels amazing. I can’t even describe it,” Alexander said. “The last eight months of the season has been a struggle. It took perseverance and it feels like it paid off finally. The guys were working well together and always communicating. The 50/50 balls, the rebounds to close the game out, were really big.”

Pima came on strong in the last two minutes despite Alexander being on the bench with five fouls.

“That’s a huge loss for us,” Oldham said. “Jaylen is a bucket-getter for sure, always good for a layup but when he fouled out, with me and Wes, he (Wes) is going to shut down Andre (Harris), and then me and Wes were going to come down and get every offensive board we can and give our team the best chance we can to get a bucket.”

The Aztecs entered Saturday’s game with a 1-2 record against Chandler-Gilbert this season. They struggled mightily in the two losses against the Coyotes, averaging 70 points and only 6.5 assists.

They led the nation before Saturday’s game in scoring and assists (23.4 a game).

Pima’s defense was the deciding factor in Saturday’s victory.

Chandler-Gilbert shot 36.8 percent from the field, 28.6 percent from 3-point range. The Coyotes had 11 turnovers and only three assists.

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