Peach Belt 20 in 20 - Game #12: PBC Men's Basketball Tournament Championship: Clayton St. vs. USC Aiken, March 9, 2008
It took three overtimes, but Clayton State won their first tournament championship as they beat USC Aiken in the 2008 PBC championship game, the only men’s final in PBC history decided in extra frames and the biggest upset in the history of the championship game. Clayton State became the lowest-seeded team ever to win the PBC Tournament and defeated the #1, #2 and #3 seeds to do so.
The Lakers were seeded seventh in 2008 after finishing 9-11 in conference play and were nearly an afterthought heading into the PBC Tournament despite having reached the tournament final in 2007. The Lakers almost didn’t make it out of the first round, needing a last-second win over 10th-seeded UNC Pembroke just to reach the quarterfinals and a date with #2 Augusta State.
|Clayton State's Bernard Fields leads the break at the 2008 Championship Game|
The tournament appeared to be over for the Lakers after trailing ASU 34-23 at the half, but Clayton held the Jaguars to nine second-half field goals and won 63-62. After taking out #3 GCSU 73-65 it was on to the final against the host.
“We looked forward, believe it or not, to playing the early game (of the week),” said Clayton State head coach Gordon Gibbons after the game. “I thought our team was playing extremely well. What we’ve really done, we’ve really stayed together as a team and played really well on the defensive end. Tonight, the overtimes, we hold them to 33 percent. You kind of knew they would have a run. We had just hoped to build a lead, withstand the run and have a chance to win at the end. We had that.”
For USC Aiken, all signs seemed to guarantee a tournament championship. The #1 seed had won their first PBC regular-season championship since 1993, they were ranked in the top five nationally and were hosting the tournament in the brand-new USCA Convocation Center. The Pacers breezed through their first game against Lander 96-64 then held off a stubborn
|USC Aiken's Chris Commons|
North Georgia team 88-83.
More than 2,000 fans crowded the arena and the Lakers made them sit on their hands as they raced out to a seven-point lead. USCA tied the game and took a brief lead, but Clayton State shot a lights-out 58% (17-29) from the field in the first half and went on a 12-3 run with under 10 to play that led to a 44-36 halftime lead.
Clayton State kept up that pressure for the first 10 minutes of the second half and built their lead to 14 with 7:31 to play following a Michael Sloan layup. But USCA was not the top seed for nothing and the Pacers began to chip away, going on a 19-4 run that brought the huge crowd back into the game. The run ended with two free throws from PBC co-Player of the Year Chris Commons that left the score tied at 69 with 1:09 to play. Both teams would put up two more points but not score over the final 31 seconds to send the game to overtime.
|Clayton State head coach Gordon Gibbons|
Both teams put up nine points in the first OT, growing more cautious and more tired as the minutes went by. The second OT was a chess game with teams holding the ball for most of their possessions, running the shot clock down before running their offense. As a result, both teams scored only four points in the second OT. The third OT was nearly identical until the waning moments.
USCA’s Jeremy Fears hit a pair of free throws to tie the game at 87. Clayton State took the inbounds and found Sloan, who dribbled around a screen from the left wing, got into the key and knocked down a foul-line jumper with 2.7 seconds left. A desperation shot by the Pacers was off the mark and the Lakers took the title.
“They say when you’re open, it’s the easiest shot,” said Sloan. “But I’m here to tell you …its not. I had to concentrate as much as I’ve ever had to my whole life.”
“It’s a tremendous win for our program,” said Gibbons. “We started to see it come together in January. We’d take two steps forward and one step back. But for have it all to come together this week is great for our program and the definite high point in our program.”