BOISE, Idaho — For the first time since 1996, the College of Idaho men's basketball team is heading to the NAIA National Championship game. On Friday, the Yotes took down Ottawa (Ariz.) 73-72 in the Fab Four to punch their title ticket in Kansas City.
The Yotes (35-1, 22-0) – who are on a 35-game winning streak – jumped out to their typical start early in the contest. A steal and layup by freshman Samaje Morgan quickly put C of I up 17-10.
As it often does, College of Idaho subbed in and out two players at a time early, but kept Morgan in the game. After OUAZ pulled within four, Morgan drilled a jumper to keep the Spirit on their heels.
After Morgan's run, sophomore guard and Montana native Drew Wyman heated up to close out the first frame. Wyman scored five of his 11 points in the final two minutes, and Cascade Collegiate Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Elzie, added two layups to give C of I a 36-21 lead at the half.
The Yotes held Ottawa to 23.08% from the field and 13.33% from the three-point line in the first half, while C of I made 15 of its 34 shots (44.12%).
The momentum continued early in the second half, as College of Idaho felt a Fab Four victory within reach. Elzie scored a quick five points and a dunk from Paul Wilson put the Yotes up by 23 with 12:43 to play.
Ottawa responded with a few runs to fight back, trimming the C of I lead to 14 points with less than eight minutes to play. For a while, the game went back and forth, and the lead bounced between 18 and 14, until late.
For the first time since early in the contest, the Spirit got within single digits, trailing just 64-55 with 2:21 to play. A three-pointer from Alex Villi, who scored 17 points in the game, cut the lead to six points (68-62) a minute later.
Ottawa's Josiah De'laCerda also hit one from behind the arc with 26 seconds remaining to make it 69-65. De'laCerda scored a game-high 28 points on Friday.
The contest came down to the final minute after another Villi three made it 71-70 in favor of the Yotes with just eight seconds left. Following a pair of made free-throws by Elzie, C of I created a 73-70 cushion with five seconds left.
On a potentially game-tying three from De'laCerda, Rocky Mountain High School grad Straton Rogers came up with a big-time block to send the Spirit home and the Yotes to the title game.
The Yotes, a top-seed in the NAIA National Championship quadrant, will face No. 2 seed Indiana Tech in Saturday's title game. The game will tip off at 6 p.m. MT on ESPN 3.
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