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First-round exit doesn't diminish PHCC's season


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

NEW PORT RICHEY -- In 1998, Pasco-Hernando Community College won the Suncoast Conference and state tournaments to advance to its only national series.

Nothing doing this year as the Conquistadors lost in the first round of the Florida Community College Athletic Association tournament Thursday.

Daytona Beach ended PHCC's season with a 75-65 win at Chipola Junior College in Marianna.

Undaunted by the quick ouster, PHCC coach Bobby Bowman lauded his team (20-13) for qualifying for the state tournament for a fifth consecutive season and winning at least 20 games for the seventh year in a row.

"With nine new players, only three who were here last year, and one (returning) starter, I'm very proud of this team and the progress we made," Bowman said.

PHCC won six of its last eight games before taking on Mid-Florida Conference champion Daytona Beach (21-10), the state's third-ranked team.

Things looked promising early for the 10th-ranked Conquistadors, who took a 40-38 halftime lead.

"It was a hard-fought game," Bowman said. "We certainly had our opportunities. We were up two and we fell short."

Ultimately, PHCC could not overcome poor free-throw shooting (eight for 15) and a hot hand by Falcons freshman John Thomas, who scored 28 points, made six of seven free throws and had 10 rebounds.

"As far as one single guy, he probably was the difference," Bowman said.

Another difference-maker was PHCC having just three players -- Mike Morris (16 points), Greg Towns (10) and Mike Jones (10) -- score in double figures. Bowman has maintained all season that at least four players must score double figures for the Conquistadors to win.

Marcus Ghent, PHCC's scoring leader who averaged 15.5 points per game, was held to eight against Daytona Beach.

PHCC won its only state championship in 1998 when it advanced by winning the conference tournament. The Conquistadors lost in the second round of the national tournament that season to eventual champion Indian Hills (Iowa).

Bowman was not discouraged that this season's playoff run did not result in another national berth.

"Realistically," the coach said, "they probably achieved higher than what the expectations were coming in."

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