KENNEWICK – Robert Lippman knew from the get-go that his basketball team was going to be good this season.
Maybe not as good as 30-1 and playing today for the NWAACC men’s crown – but good.
“I think the final thing that ended up showing me that we were going to have a good season is team chemistry,” the sophomore forward said. “We’re all pretty close.”
The Community Colleges of Spokane men routed Southwestern Oregon 81-64 on Saturday, claiming a berth in today’s championship game. They play Yakima Valley (24-7) at 7:30 p.m.
The Sasquatch have already beaten the Yaks twice this season, though CCS head coach Mike Burns was quick to point out that any NWAACC team is capable of beating another on any given night.
For most of the season, though, that winning team has usually been CCS. The Sasquatch showed their prowess again against Southwestern Oregon – this time from 3-point range.
CCS drained 13 from beyond the arc, compared to the Lakers’ four shots from 3-point range. Those 39 points – more than half of their point total – helped the Sasquatch soar to their quarterfinal victory.
That and their 20 assists.
“We just all know what we’re going to do,” Lippman said. “We share the ball equally, and everybody on the team can score.”
Sharing – and keeping – the ball was Eric Beal, Spokane’s leading scorer all season. As he explained it, he had two off nights in CCS’s first two tournament games Thursday and Friday. Beal got back in the groove.
Beal dished out five assists, and scored 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including 4 of 5 from the perimeter. He also pulled down seven rebounds.
“With our team – our coaches talked about it before the game – someone’s going to step up every night, someone different,” Beal said. “So tonight, in the first half, it was me.”
Then he caught himself: “Well, it was everyone in the first half. But tonight I got it going a little bit, so it felt good.”
The Sasquatch outscored the Lakers 49-28 in the first half, coming hard out of the gates and denying Southwestern Oregon any field goals in the first 6 minutes. The 19-4 opening run set the tone for the rest of the game, and CCS cruised to the win.
For Lippman, who saw diminished minutes in the first two tournament games because of foul trouble, just playing felt good. He had 10 points and five rebounds to top off his 22nd birthday.
“Best birthday gift ever,” he said of qualifying for the championship game.
Matthew Dorr led CCS with 17 points, and Jon Clift was close behind with 16. CCS held Southwestern Oregon’s Emmanuel Olekaibe – whom Burns called the “Dennis Rodman of the NWAACC” for his rebounding abilities – to just four boards.
Nevertheless, Olekaibe had 17 points, leading the Lakers along with Joseph Foster and Matt Dance, who each added 10.
“They’re an explosive team,” Burns said. “So I thought we did a good job early on of slowing those guys down.”
Burns said tough defense is what he likes to see. It seems to work – it’s led Spokane through a tough season schedule to the biggest game in Northwest community college basketball.
“That first day, I ran the hell out of them,” Burns said of the first practice day months ago. “I knew then and there that they had a large amount of character and toughness. And that character and toughness has carried these kids a long ways.
“They’re a very, very special group of young men,” he said. “Great young men, not just great basketball players. It’s that greatness and toughness that’s gotten us to where we’re at.”