The Eastern Florida State College men's basketball team edged Barton Community College 82-80 Thursday afternoon to advance to the semifinals of the NJCAA National Championship Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
"I have been thinking about this moment since the beginning of the year and we are just blessed to be here," sophomore guard Ahmed Ali said. "It's great. It is one game at a time but we are truly blessed, I can't believe we are here."
With three minutes to go and the Titans clinging to a two-point lead, Ahmed Ali drove and found an open Michael Nuga who hit his third 3-pointer of the day to give Eastern Florida State College an 82-77 lead. Barton would answer with a 3-pointer from Kian Dalrymple to cut it to two points.
With Barton looking to tie the game in the final seconds, freshman Ruot Monyyong blocked the shot inside and grabbed the ball, drawing a foul. The freshman missed the free throw, setting up one final look for Barton, which was short.
"The past three weeks, maybe month he has turned a corner and I trust him so much now," Eastern Florida State College men's basketball coach Jeremy Shulman said. "His preparation, his buyin, his attention to detail has been fantastic so trusting him at the end was a no-brainer."
Down the stretch it was toughness that gave the Titans a chance as EFSC outrebounded Barton 51-37 and grabbed 24 offensive rebounds. Eli Abaev finished with 12 while Monyyong and Silas Adheke each had 11 rebounds in the game.
"The frontcourt stepped up huge with some rebounds, what makes it even tougher is that Barton runs a big three man, they always have three forwards," Shulman said. "There was a lot of pressure on Eli, Silas and Ruot and they stepped up big time."
Point guard Jalen Warren led the Titans with a season-high 19 points to go with eight rebounds in the game. Nuga finished with 15 points while Nuga had 13 and Nathanael Jack finished with 11 points off the bench.
The Titans advance to the national semifinals for the second straight season and will play the winner of tonight's South Plains-Connors State game at 7 p.m. EDT on Friday.