The color purple is often associated with royalty. With monarchs and sovereign rulers.
It is also associated with The College of Idaho Coyotes.
For the second consecutive year, the C of I men’s basketball team climbed the ladder and cut down the nets as Cascade Conference Tournament champions. The No. 6-ranked Yotes (28-5) earned the repeat with a hard-fought, 86-79 victory over No.23 Southern Oregon (24-9) Tuesday inside the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.
Coach Scott Garson saved the final piece of the net for the only fourth-year senior on the C of I squad, Sydney Donaldson, saying the unselfish, hard-working player deserved to put the net around his neck.
“These are the moments I dreamt of as a kid,” Donaldson said. “To have the opportunity to defend the title at home in front of an amazing community, it’s just incredible.”
In the locker room, Garson effectively banned his team from the gym and told them to take the next day off and enjoy the moment. But after that, it will be back to the practice floor as the C of I travels to Point Lookout, Mo. to take on Dakota State in the first round of the NAIA National Championships at 3 p.m. on March 11.
“It’s one game at a time, because you’re one-and-done if you lose,” Garson said. “So you’ve got to play for the next game.”
For seniors Joe Vaz, Demetrius Perkins and Josh Wilson, who transferred to the C of I as juniors, the championship capped a two-year run that included back-to-back regular season championships. They also experienced a 34-game home win streak, never dropping a contest in front of the YoteFam.
“Thank you to all the great fans this year, we love you, we appreciate you,” Wilson said to the crowd after the game. “Turn up, College of Idaho!”
The Yotes came out hot in the first half, taking a 44-32 lead into the locker room. They were aided by a perfect shooting performance from senior guard Jordan O’Byrne, who went 4-4 from the field and 3-3 from 3-point land.
But the Raiders kept it close, fighting back to tie the game twice in the second. With the game knotted up at 71 inside of five minutes, senior Demetrius Perkins hit a huge 3-pointer while being fouled.
“I was just thinking about making the free throw to convert the four-point play,” Perkins said.
And convert he did, giving the Yotes a 75-71 lead they never relinquished.
“I really love the way the team has handled the adversity (this year),” Garson said. “I think the fact that we have been in so many tough, close, tight games this year, really helped us here…When (SOU) came all the way back and tied it up - we’ve been there and done that so many times.”
Perkins led the team with 17 points on the night, with Donaldson (15), O’Byrne (14), Vaz (12) and senior center Marko Kovacevic (11) also scoring double digits as the Yotes converted 50 percent of their shots. Emmanuel Morgan led the team with seven assists and both he and Perkins had three steals on the night. On the defensive side, Kovacevic and Donaldson led the team with two blocks apiece. The depth of the C of I team was also showcased with the 28 points coming from the bench.
Winning back-to-back championships won’t soon be forgotten, but for Donaldson and the rest of the Yotes, a crown jewel still awaits to be added.
“We’re enjoying the moment, definitely,” Donaldson said. “But the big phrase in my head is ‘We’re not done yet.’”
On Wednesday, Wilson was named Cascade Conference Player of the Year after averaging 10.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season. Wilson, Perkins and Kovacevic were named to the All-CCC Team.
To view the complete NAIA National Tournament Bracket, click here.
Founded in 1891, The College of Idaho is the state’s oldest private liberal arts college. The C of I has a legacy of academic excellence, a winning athletics tradition and a history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars and 14 Marshall, Truman and Goldwater Scholars. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.