VCC goes down in semifinal nail-biter, finishes fourth

by Tom Coombe -

A furious comeback came up just a little bit short, and the Vermilion Ironmen's state title and national tournament hopes were dashed Saturday afternoon at Coon Rapids.

The community college basketball team trimmed a 12-point gap to one with just a minute to go, but the Ironmen wouldn't score again and Akeem Smith nailed two key free throws to ice Rochester's 81-77 victory in a sloppy but entertaining state semifinal,

Vermilion lost 78-70 to Central Lakes in Sunday's third-place game and finished 18-12 overall.

The Ironmen looked good for half of the semifinal, a rematch of last year's title tilt, and grabbed a 45-39 lead by halftime in part by forcing 10 Rochester turnovers.

Momentum shifted in the second half as VCC coughed the ball up three times and a Malik Jones three-pointer gave Rochester its first lead at 52-50.

Jones, who had 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, joined Smith in fueling a spurt that extended the Yellowjackets' lead to 75-63 with four minutes to go.

But the Ironmen weren't done, outscoring Rochester 16-4 in a furious three-minute span, with Demetrice Mitchell pulling VCC to within 80-79 with his basket at the one-minute mark. Mitchell was fouled on the play, but missed a free throw that would have tied the score.

Rochester got all the breaks in the final minute, gaining an offensive rebound on a missed free throw and forcing a turnover with 19 seconds to go and the score 81-79. Smith buried two free throws to finish the Ironmen off.

Freshman guard Cliff Lloyd had 24 points for the Ironmen, while sophomore forward Devonta Whitaker had 19 points and 19 rebounds.