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Hawks win South Region

MURFREESBORO – Oh, that Championship Feeling; especially when you know it’s one-and done.

For the second time in three seasons, the Chowan University men’s basketball team is headed back to Oakland City, Indiana to begin play next week as champions of the South Region in the National Christian College Athletic Association national championship tournament.

Trailing by two points at halftime, the Hawks put on a furious second-half rally and punched their ticket to the Elite Eight with a 93-68 victory Monday night over Pensacola (Fla.) Christian College at the Helms Center in Murfreesboro.

Virginia Beach junior Chris Kenon led all scorers with 24 points and was named tournament MVP.  Senior teammate Montino Williams had 14 points while freshmen Layth Mansour and Charles Rhodes rounded out the double-figure scoring for Chowan with 13 each. Ryan Vanderboegh had 18 for PCC in a losing effort.

&uot;I told them at halftime we had to step it up,&uot; said a jubilant coach Jim Tribbett after the game, &uot;play harder and play with more intensity and much better defense.&uot;

While the visiting Eagles shot a blistering 54 percent in the first half, including connecting on 8-of-17 three-point shots, the stifling Hawks defense in the second half reduced that number to 31 percent in the second half on 7-of-22 shooting.

&uot;We were playing apprehensive in the first half,&uot; added the coach, &uot;and that was probably a sign of not playing for three weeks.&uot; 

The Hawks’ last regular season game was back on February 23, a 77-62 home loss to CIAA member, Virginia Union.

The first half opened with the Hawks in a zone defense against the Eagles, but their spread did little to stop Pensacola’s three-point shooting, which leads the NCCAA.  Methodic in their half-court offense Chowan kept pace as neither team was able to establish a run.

Then, with the Hawks down a point, 28-26, they began to find their rhythm when Williams hit a three-pointer, Kenon hit a jumper, and Williams came back with a steal and a lay-up for a five point swing and a 32-26 lead.

With three minutes until halftime the Hawks led 39-34 and appeared to be seizing control of the game, but back came PCC with four three-pointers and a pair of jump shots, and in a minute and a half of play the Eagles went from five-down to five points ahead, 44-39. 

The run was also costly for Chowan as sophomore Jaleel Nelson suffered a toe and heel injury and missed the rest of the half. Kenon, however, hit a three-pointer and a pair of free throws to send the game into the break with Pensacola nursing a 46-44 lead.

Then the Hawks’ fun began.

It was tied 48-48 in the opening three minutes of the second half, but with a pressing man-to-man defense forcing turnovers the Hawks went on a 17-0 run, highlighted by three-point shooting of their own and a vicious Lando Morrison dunk. PCC didn’t score again until there were 10 minutes left in the game. 

Kenon led the charge with four three-pointers, missing just one shot the entire half as Chowan upped their lead to 24. From there the Hawks were playing in fast-forward up-tempo style and PCC never caught fire again.  Chowan shot 56 per cent for the half while PCC committed 20 turnovers for the game.

&uot;They did a good job of getting in our faces the second half,&uot; said PCC coach Marl Goetsch shaking his head after the game as the Hawks celebrated the regional championship.  &uot;And they’re going to need that lock-down defense when they get to the championship next week.&uot;

&uot;They had too many scorers,&uot; said a smiling Williams, &uot;so we had to play good defense and good team defense. We did a good job in the second half of communicating with each other.&uot;

&uot;We had a lot more speed than they did,&uot; added Kenon, &uot;and we used that to our advantage with some good looks outside and some fast-break lay-ups.&uot;

&uot;Going into Indiana we gotta get that first game and keep our confidence going and then try to take those next two,&uot; he added 

Williams, Mansour and Rhodes joined Kenon on the All-Tournament team along with Vanderboegh for Pensacola Christian.

The Hawks are guaranteed three games in the NCCAA Nationals. Chowan will take a short spring break the rest of this week before returning to Murfreesboro for practice Friday and Saturday; then leave late Saturday with a stop in Tennessee for another practice Sunday before they arrive at Oakland City University where they are expected to be the number-three seed in the eight-team tournament.