The Riverside City College men's basketball team began their season on Halloween and ended non-conference play two weeks before Christmas. The Tigers were glued to a record that was two games below .500 and they were on the verge of entering into Orange Empire Conference (OEC) play. In a conference that consistently breeds the top teams in the state, the Tigers had their work cut out for them.
Under the direction of Head Coach Phil Matthews, the Tigers rallied off eight conference victories and earned the 11th overall ranking in the state. With a 70-61 win over the Fullerton College Hornets on Wednesday night, they completed conference play on a 14-2 note, thus earning the Tigers a conference title.
It is the first conference championship for Matthews in his seventh season at the helm. It has been a long time coming for the 1997 Hall of Fame Inductee, who has lead the Tigers to four-consecutive winning seasons. It is Matthew's 11th time winning a conference title after accomplishing this feat 10 times at Ventura College from 1986-95.
It was a dog fight from the get go as the Hornets and the Tigers went blow for blow from the opening tip. The game was fast paced and physical which lead to a 30-all score at halftime.
The second half told the tale as the Hornets switched up defensive schemes and took a quick eight-point lead two minutes into the second half.
However, a timeout rejuvenated the Tiger offense as freshman point guard Melvin Walker flushed a three ball on the ensuing possession. Freshman guard Xavier Ford followed by converting a momentum shifting four-point play to bring the Tigers within one point at 40-39.
The momentum shifted, but the Hornets continued to keep the Tigers at an arm's reach from the lead until freshman guard Keylin Vance hit a six-foot floater on a baseline drive to tie the game. Walker put the Tigers ahead shortly after with a layup.
Ford took matters into his own hands down the stretch and provided Riverside with a strong seven point cushion by hitting consecutive three pointers, one assisted by Walker and the other by freshman guard Amir Davis, to regain the lead and control of the game.
Free throws sealed the deal for the Tigers as they hit 9 of 10 free throws leading to the win.
Ford scored a season-high 19 points to go along with four rebound and two assists. Davis followed with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Vance scored 10 points and hauled in three rebounds.
Riverside finishes the regular season with an overall record of 19-9 encompassing a 14-2 conference mark. Riverside will host the first round of playoffs next week. Stay tuned to www.rccathletics.com for more information.