MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- With 10 minutes left in the 2006 West Coast Regional Basketball Championship game at the East Gym Oct. 20, the MCAGCC men held a 13-point lead over rival Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., and they looked poised to extend it even further.
A few minutes later, however, their lead was gone, and the fight that was absent from Pendleton in the first 30 minutes of the game, partly due to early foul trouble, was back.
MCAGCC entered the single elimination tournament after breezing through the pre-tournament seeding competition with a 3-0 record earlier in the week.
After destroying Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., 92-31, in the first round, and sending Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., packing after a 100-81 victory in the second round, the Combat Center men were ready to take on Pendleton.
Pendleton navigated their way through the seeding tournament, and the first and second rounds of the single elimination tournament with relative ease as well. They entered the single elimination tournament with a 3-0 record, and knocked off Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, 96-72, and 1st Marine Division, 94-87 in the first and second rounds.
The match-up was one MCAGCC coach Jerome Hawkins had been anticipating since before the tournament, even guaranteeing victory over the talented Pendleton team.
"We will run regionals," he said, in the weeks before the tournament. "We will win West Coast Regionals. Guaranteed."
This quote, however, served as motivation for Pendleton, according to coach Eric Wilson.
"I saw the paper the third day we were here and the head coach guaranteed a win," he said, referring to an article published in the Observation Post a week prior. "I told my guys to play one game at a time, and I challenged them every game, reminding them of what he said."
Pendleton was challenged by MCAGCC for most of the game, as the Combat Center pushed them around on their home court, leading by as many as nine points in the first half due in large part to hot shooting by Sam Hook. MCAGCC took a 41-34 lead into halftime.
In the second half, MCAGCC came out swinging, extending their lead to as many as 15 at one point, but late in the game MCAGCC’s offense began to sputter, and Pendleton capitalized.
After erasing the deficit, MCAGCC and Pendleton traded baskets, with neither team leading by more than two points in the final four minutes of the game.
With 21 seconds remaining and Pendleton holding on to a 79-78 lead, MCAGCC’s Dempsey Tomblin went to the line with the opportunity to put them ahead, however, he missed the first free throw on a one for one situation and Pendleton grabbed the rebound. MCAGCC fouled, sending Pendleton to the line where they added one more point, and eventually, another West Coast Regional Basketball Championship title.
After the game, Wilson was pleased with his teams come from behind victory.
"We got in foul trouble early, and that took away our aggressiveness, but I knew if we could get to the line, we could inch our way back in the game," he said. "Never did we panic. We never lost it in the game. I’m still high right now."
The game was followed by individual award presentations, where Pendleton’s Willie Nathan earned most valuable player of the tournament honors.