After a fast-paced first half, the Suns opened up the game in the third quarter, using their advantage down low to take a 14-point lead into the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs, showing resilience throughout the night, began to slowly eat away at the Suns’ lead to bring the game, and the home crowd, back to life in the final minutes.
With 38 seconds to go, the Bulldogs made it a two-point game thanks to an aggressive press defense that had caught the Suns off guard over the course of the final eight minutes of play.
But Suns center Maquadius Bain, dominating from inside the paint for the entirety of the game and finishing with 27 points and 13 rebounds, made several big free throws and defensive stops down the stretch to help the Suns hold on to their dwindling lead and the win.
UNI (18-7): Hewitt 9, Battle 10, Barton 11, Bullock 10, Allen 5, Bain 27. ABC (26-5): Lima 24, Garcia 7, Amaro 18, Cohen 3, Brimah 8, Brown 6. Three-pointers: Amaro 3. Rebounds: Bain 13. Assists: Hewitt 5. Steals: Battle 2.
• Region 4-7A semifinal — Blanche Ely 70, Northeast 43: Dallas Cameron scored 18 points and shut down Northeast’s perimeter scorers as Ely rolled past the Hurricanes.
The Tigers will host Palm Beach Lakes on Saturday in the regional finals for a chance to defend their state championship in Lakeland next week.
The Tigers, who beat Northeast three times this season prior to Tuesday night, came on blistering and pounced all over the Hurricanes jumping out to a 15-2 lead behind tenacious defense that led to layups and dunks.
Ely led 24-10 at the end of the first. The game never got closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
Khalil Thomas added 12 points, 13 rebounds and four steals and dominated inside, while his counterpart, Northeast’s Malik Price-Martin, settled for perimeter jumpers in leading the Hurricanes with 17 points, but little around the basket.
It all came down to defense, though, once again for the Tigers.
Their relentless pressure forced Northeast into multiple turnovers in the first half as they built a 36-17 lead at halftime.
“It’s pretty hard playing a team four times, keeping that intensity especially when you beat them the past three times, you have to keep up the same intensity as you did before, but you know we came in focused everyday this week knowing we had to play them again, studying film, maxed out on all the things we could possibly do. All we had to do was go on the court with intensity which we did,” Cameron said. “Our mentality is pressure, attack, defensive pressure, and once we get them down, we don’t let them up.”
The style in which the Tigers play has proven to be too much for opponents to handle. They only run with a seven-man rotation, but they never appear tired or play tired.
“Our practices are like game like situations, even worse so when the game comes, it is going to be easy. Everything we do is full intensity. We don’t have any drills that we walk through. We run to everything. It gets you not only physically conditioned, but mentally conditioned so when you get your second wind, the other team is standing on their knees panting, you are standing up like a stallion. It’s deflating,” Cameron said.
NE (10-10) – Price-Martin 17, Simonson 13, Osceola 8, King 2, Alerte 3. ELY (24-1) – Lee 4, Thomas 12, Allen 13, Cameron 18, Tejada 13, Gosier 8, Jackson 2. Half: Ely 36-17. Three-Pointers: Cameron 4, Allen, Price-Martin 3, Simonson 3, Osceola 2. Rebounds: Thomas 13. Assits: Tejada 8. Steals: Thomas, Allen 4. Blocks: Price-Martin 3.