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Senators win Region VII title, advance to national tournament
 March 8, 2014

HARRIMAN, Tenn. -- The Walters State Senators turned a season filled with disappointments into the ultimate joy Saturday afternoon when they upset third ranked Columbia State to win the TCCAA-NJCAA Region VII title and clinch a berth in the NJCAA National Tournament in Kansas.

The Senators grabbed the lead on a 3-point play by Daniel Hill in the final seven minutes and never trailed again, as they held on for an 81-76 victory over the Chargers.

With the win, Walters State advances to the national tournament in Hutchinson for the second straight season and third time in the last five years, and they will carry a 20-13 record with them to the Midwest.

The loss drops Columbia State to 26-3 on the season, but despite the loss, they are likely to be picked as an at-large team for the national tournament on Monday.

"I'm really at a loss for words for what we just did here," WSCC coach Bill Carlyle said. "Columbia State has an amazing team, but these kids on our team are special. They have been through so much, and to see them celebrate out there today knowing we are going to the national tournament is a special moment."

TCCAA player of the year T.J. Dunans was hot early on, scoring seven quick points to give the Chargers a 9-8 lead. Columbia led 15-10 before the Senators cut the margin to a single point twice, but Kendrick May and Ivan Alsup both knocked down triples to push the lead to 27-20.

Denard Williams got the comeback started for the Senators with a strong putback slam dunk, and Aaron Wheeler, the tournament's MVP, had a dunk of his own in a  run that cut the deficit to 35-32. Williams had another dunk before Wheeler scored the final four points of the half for a 38-37 lead at the mid-game break.

The Senators shot 44.8 percent (13 of 29) from the field in the first half, including 3 of 7 from long range, and they made 9 of 10 at the free throw line. Williams had 11 points and 6 rebounds in the half, while Wheeler added 8 points and Elgrin Wilson had 7 in the opening 20 minutes.

The Chargers knocked down 42.9 percent (12 of 28) from the floor in the half, but they were red-hot from outside, making 8 of 14 behind the 3-point arc. Dunans led Columbia State with 11 points, while Ikeem Bergeron, Arturs Bremers and Matt Brown had 6 each in the frame.

Wheeler hit two straight buckets and Elgrin Wilson added a basket to extend the lead to 44-37 early in the second half, and the Senators led by as many as 9 at 49-40 before the Chargers came roaring back. Dunans and Bremers led the comeback with multiple buckets, and Columbia State pulled ahead 56-55.

The Senators quickly pulled back ahead before the Chargers knotted it at 65, but the 3-point play by Hill put WSCC back on top for good. Wheeler and Suttles each had a putback under the bucket, but Columbia State fought back to cut it to 75-74 in the final 90 seconds.

The Chargers got no closer, as Suttles hit four straight free throws and Wheeler added two more to help clinch the game in the closing seconds.

The Senators ended the game shooting 46.2 percent (30 of 65) from the floor, including 4 of 9 from long range, and they made 17 of 22 attempts at the free throw line.

Wheeler led five players in double figures with 21 points, while Williams added 17 points and 9 rebounds. Suttles had a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards, while Wilson chipped in 13 points and Hill had 11 in the win. Suttles and Williams both joined Wheeler on the All-TCCAA Tournament Team.

"From the second half of the game Friday night all through this game, Wheeler played at another level," Carlyle said. "He was deserving of the MVP, as was Trey and Snoop (Denard). Those three played lights out in the tournament and lifted us up every time we needed it. I'm proud of them and this team."

Columbia State shot 47.6 percent (30 of 63) in the contest, making 12 of 24 from beyond the 3-point arc. Dunans led the Chargers with 21 points, while Brown added 16 and Bremers had 14 in the loss.

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