COSTA MESA -- The Orange Coast College men's basketball team earned a No. 6 seed in this year's Southern California Regional playoff bracket and will host Mt. San Jacinto on Friday night, beginning at 7 p.m. inside the Peterson Gym.
The Pirates (20-7), champions of the Orange Empire Conference, enter Friday's matchup as one of the hottest teams in the state. Winners of 11 straight and 18 of 20, Coast will enjoy a home playoff matchup for the first time in over a decade, but head coach Steve Spencer knows the type of team the 11th-seeded Eagles (14-15) are.
"They've got some guys who like to push the ball up the floor and they've got some guys who can rebound so we will need to do a good job of pounding the boards and not turn the ball over too much," Spencer said. "Mt. San Jacinto is a perennial playoff team and they're well coached so we will have to be at our best on Friday night."
It's been a run not too many people saw coming as the 2017-18 season began. After finishing last season 8-19 (1-11 in conference), opened the season 2-5, but began to click with five-game winning streak, topping, Merritt (74-60), Mt. San Antonio (53-51), Imperial Valley (73-64), Allan Hancock (78-57) and Rio Hondo (76-62) along the way. In all, OCC won 7-of-8 heading into Orange Empire Conference play and in the opener, Coast carried a 13-point lead late into the second half, only to see the Lasers rally for a 63-62 win.
"We learned that when it's crunch time and the pressure is on, you have to embrace the moment and not shy away from it," Spencer said after OCC's win over Fullerton to clinch the conference title. "We had a couple of those tough losses earlier in the year and I think from there, we just went for it and we didn't fear the risk of failure."
From there, the Pirates went on a run that hasn't been seen before in the history of OCC men's basketball, winning 11 straight -- including six by three points or less and four that went into overtime -- and clinching the school's first conference title since 1979.
Freshman center Joshua Davis has dominated down low right from the opening game of the season, averaging 17.7 points and nine rebounds per game. In conference play, those numbers grew to 18.3 points and 9.5 points per game.
When the defense focuses on Davis, the sophomore duo of Lloyd Wright and Kupaa Harrison take over for the Pirates. Wright, a role player for Coast last year, has averaged 15.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game, while Harrison -- a member of the OCC men's volleyball team a year ago -- averaged 15.3 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.
The depth of the Pirates has really come into play over the past several games and several players have made key plays down the stretch to help this team mantain its winning ways. Sophomore guard Jumoke Walker (5.7 points, 2.5 assists/game) has been the vocal leader on and off the floor, while Rachaun Echols (6.3 points/game), Malik Skillern (4.5 PPG), Robert Nixon (4.2 PPG), Malik Skillern (4.5 PPG) and Leonard Stallings (3.5 PPG) have all made significant contributions on both sides of the floor.
For the Eagles, who finished in a three-way tie for second in the Pacific Coast Conference's North Division, they have notched some significant wins, including victories over Santiago Canyon (89-86), Copper Mountain (75-74) and Miramar (95-70) ... all of whom are in this year's playoffs.
MSJC is led by sophomore guard Davon Sanders, who enters the matchup averaging a team-best 17.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. On two occasions, Sanders cracked the 30-point mark, scoring 33 against Santiago Canyon and 39 against West Hills Coalinga, so the Pirates need to pay particular attention to him.
Others to keep an eye on for the Eagles include freshman David Thompson (9.7 points per game), sophomore A.J. Walton (9.3 PPG), freshman C.J. Hyder (8.7 PPG) and sophomore Jeremy Bonifacio (6.1 PPG).
The winner of this matchup will play on March 3 against the winner of Saturday's matchup between No. 3 Citrus and No. 14 Miramar for a trip to the CCCAA State Finals.
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