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DANVILLE, Ill. - What the Triton College men's basketball team accomplished this season may be tough to duplicate. For the past three months the Trojans played with the pressure of being the No. 1 ranked National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II team in the country, answering every challenge presented to them.
Triton won an astounding 30 games in a row entering Saturday's NJCAA Division II national championship game against Kirkwood Community College (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). But the hopes of a storybook ending and the team's first ever national title were dashed by the Eagles as the Trojans' historic season ended with an 83-76 loss.
Triton finished as national runners-up with a 34-3 record, winning the most games in a season in program history. The three losses are the fewest in school history, equaling the mark set by the 1971-72 squad.
"It was an incredible season," said Trojan head coach Steve Christiansen. "Outside of the outcome of this game, it almost felt like a fairy tale. I'm proud of my team. I'm proud of our program. It's been a long time and a lot of hard work by many to help get us to this point. The enjoyment these young men gave me, our coaching staff, our fans and our school cannot be taken away."
Against the Eagles, the Trojans ended the first half on a 6-0 run which included baskets by Nick Norton (Downers Grove North), Dante Thorpe (Washington D.C.) and Greg Carter (Morton), cutting the halftime deficit to 37-36.
Triton grabbed the lead one minute into the second half on field goals by Percell Washington (Forman) and Josh Doss (Taft) to go up 40-37.
However, Kirkwood's Josh Bartlett got hot from three-point range, draining three triples during a 13-4 run that put the Eagles up 50-44 with 15:57 remaining, a lead they would not surrender.
The Trojans' offense had to fight for every scoring chance, going without a field goal for a seven-and-a-half minute stretch that allowed Kirkwood to increase their lead to 61-48 midway through the second half.
Eddie Miles (Hales Franciscan) did everything in his power to keep Triton afloat. The sophomore scored the next six points to cut Kirkwood's lead to seven. Miles at one point scored 16 of Triton's 22 points during an eight minute span. He finished with 26 points and was named to the all-tournament team.
Eric Gillespie was also an all-tournament selection. The sophomore (Warren) hit a pair of threes to trim the deficit to 79-76 with 27 seconds to play. Kirkwood (31-4) gave Triton life by missing several free throws down the stretch.
After the Gillespie three, the Eagles' Nick Richards missed a pair of free throws. John Joyce (Taft) grabbed the rebound off the second miss, but the Trojans missed a potential game-tying three-point attempt with six seconds left.
Richards, who missed five free throws in the final minute, was able to connect on a pair from the charity stripe to put the game away.
Washington and Carter finished in double-figures with 10 points apiece for Triton. Thorpe added eight points.
For the game, Kirkwood shot 50 percent from the field (27-54). The Eagles were 24-of-39 from the foul line (61.5 percent). The Trojans ended up shooting a respectable 26-of-59 from the field (44.1 percent). Triton shot a solid 18-of-21 from the free throw line (87.5 percent).
Triton Sophomore Eddie Miles (22) attempts a shot during the NJCAA Division II Championship game Saturday night. Photo/Courtesy F&S Sports.
Previously in Triton:
* Triton Men's Basketball Team No. 1 For First Time.
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