CEDAR RAPIDS — The moisture in Tim Sandquist’s eyes told the whole story.
Seven months of hard work for the Kirkwood men’s basketball team ended in an instant on Thursday night at Johnson Hall.
Deundra Roberson’s short jumper in the lane just ahead of the final buzzer gave No. 12 NIACC a 76-74 win over the No. 9 Eagles in the semifinals of the Iowa Community College Athletic Conference tournament. The Trojans (25-6) advance to Saturday’s title game to meet DMACC (28-4) at 3 p.m. in Boone. No. 5 DMACC advanced with an 83-68 win over No. 10 Iowa Lakes.
Sandquist, whose first year as Kirkwood head coach finishes at 24-6, was understandably emotional after his team fought back from 12 points down in the second half to take a short-lived lead.
“It was not that last shot that caused us to lose,” he said. “We had opportunities to convert that we didn’t and our inability to get consistent stops in a row in the middle part of the game hurt us.
“We expended a lot of energy to get back in the game.”
NIACC used its speed and quickness to build a 38-29 lead at halftime. The Trojans hounded the Eagles the entire game with full-court pressure. Kirkwood only committed nine turnovers for the game, but struggled to get into an offensive rhythm and had to force up several attempts to beat the shot clock.
Sandquist was also forced to play much of the first half without top inside players Luke Appel and DJ Purnell. Both picked up two early fouls and spent much of the first 20 minutes watching from the bench.
“The inability to play Appel and Purnell for long periods of time in the first half hurt us a little bit,” Sandquist said.
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Trailing 62-51 with 8:40 remaining, the Eagles made a charge, battling back to tie the game at 72-72 on a Purnell lay-in with 1:08 remaining. Griff Clark then came away with a steal, leading to a Seybian Sims basket to put Kirkwood ahead with 45 seconds remaining. Quentin Hardict tied the game for NIACC with a basket at the 32-second mark. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw, giving Kirkwood the ball with a chance to win.
“I didn’t call timeout because I didn’t want their defense to get set,” Sandquist said. “We ran a set, we got a look and it didn’t go in.”
The miss came on a shot near the basket from Purnell where there appeared to be contact. NIACC rebounded with 11 seconds and didn’t call a timeout. Hardict drove toward the hoop and dished to Roberson who hit the game-winner as time expired.
Sims led a balanced attack for Kirkwood, finishing with 12 points. Appel had 11. Hardict led five NIACC players in double figures with 19. Wendell Matthews had 18 while Trey Sampson finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds.
“I’m so proud of them,” Sandquist said of his players. “One loss does not define their careers here. They accomplished so much here.”
NIACC (76): James Harris 3-8 2-2 10, Deundra Roberson 5-10 2-4 12, Wendell Matthews 8-12 2-4 18, Quentin Hardrict 6-12 6-10 19, Trey Sampson 6-8 4-6 16, McKelary Robertson 0-0 0-0 0, Marshaun Carroll 0-1 1-2 1, Chandler Dean 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 28-54 17-28 76.
KIRKWOOD (74): Seybian Sims 6-9 0-1 12, Devonte Thedford 3-9 3-3 10, Luke Appel 3-7 4-4 11, Jamal Stephenson 2-6 4-6 9, DJ Purnell 5-11 0-0 10, Griff Clark 2-6 1-2 6, Brady Sartorius 1-3 0-1 2, Gacoby Jones 2-6 0-0 4, Chris Burnell 0 0-0 0, Niko Gosnell 4-6 2-3 10. Totals 28-63 14-20 74.
Halftime - NIACC 38, Kirkwood 29. 3-point goals - NIACC 3-7 (Harris 2-3, Hardict 1-2, Carroll 0-1, Dean 0-1), Kirkwood 4-17 (Sims 0-3, Thedford 1-1, Appel 1-2, Stephenson 1-4, Sartorius 0-2, Clark 1-5). Rebounds - NIACC 32 (Sampson 15), Kirkwood 33 (Purnell 9). Assists - NIACC 11 (Hardict 7), Kirkwood 13 (Appel 4). Turnovers - NIACC 10, Kirkwood 9. Total fouls - NIACC 21, Kirkwood 24. Fouled out - Sampson. Technical fouls - none.