BRADENTON -- Basketball is a game of runs, but what State College of Florida did in a 101-88 victory over Hillsborough Community College on Wednesday night at Hal Chasey Gymnasium deserves to be in a class by itself.
The Manatees trailed 68-56 with 13 minutes, 30 seconds left in the game and looked sluggish under the barrage of 3-pointers Hillsborough was dropping on them.
SCF head coach Brock Erickson called a timeout and asked his players if this was the way they wanted their regular season to end.
They answered in the best way they could, going on a 24-5 run to take a commanding 86-73 lead with 6:22 remaining. SCF outscored the Hawks 56-38 in the second half.
The victory would have given SCF the Suncoast Conference title and automatic bid to the state tournament. However, the National Junior College Athletic Association ruled the Manatees had to forfeit one conference game for using an ineligible player, giving Polk State the conference crown. The school announced the penalty Wednesday night. SCF plays Monday at home against the winner of Saturday's St. Petersburg-Hillsborough game with the winner going to the state tournament as conference runner-up.
SCF was led by 6-foot-7 Obinna Oleka, who had a career-high 32 points and 14 rebounds. Denzel Myers added 19 points and a team-high 12 assists, and Michael Sanchez had 13 points.
"The crowd gave us energy, and we took it from there," Oleka said. "I just was thinking, 'Don't stop playing.' I was thinking we needed to pick it up and we called a timeout and got it going. I was tired but my adrenalin was pumping, and I couldn't stop."
Trailing 68-56, SCF outscored Hillsborough 22-3.
Oleka led the spurt with six points. Spiking that adrenalin were back-to-back dunks on fast-break turnovers by Oleka and Isaiah Williams that cut the Manatees' deficit to 71-69 with 10:52 left.
SCF tied it at 71 when Oleka fed Brian Cobb for a layup and then took the lead for good on a basket by Williams. Another assist by Oleka gave Savad Garner a layup and then Sanchez completed a three-point play when he raced downcourt following another Hawks turnover for a 78-71 lead with nine minutes left.
"I challenged our guys to step up and play the way we are accustomed to playing, which is running and defending and rebounding, and they responded," Erickson said. "There was a timeout, and they said it's time to play. Obinna has been coming along all year, and we stayed with him, and he has worked hard.
"He didn't understand how important it was to play as hard as you can play every single day, and he has started to figure it out and is a difference-maker because he is so talented."
A key for SCF was stopping Hillsborough guard John Wallace Jr., who drained six treys in the first half and scored 22 points. The son of John Wallace Sr., who played for Syracuse and the New York Knicks, the youngster was held to two second-half points.
"I told our guys if they wanted to win they needed to shut him down, and I challenged our sophomores -- Denzel Myers, Daunte Johnson and Isaiah Williams," Erickson said. "I told them they would play him man to man and do not let him score. We mixed it up a little, but that was mostly what it was. I am really proud of our guys. There was a point there where they could've given up, and they stuck with it.'
SCF, which leads the nation in assists with 24.3 per game, easily topped that mark with 29. Contributing to that was Williams, who had six assists to go along with six rebounds, four steals and eight points.
The Manatees had five players in double figures. Cobb, the Lakewood Ranch High product, had 11 points, five rebounds, a team-high three blocks and two steals. Garner had 10 points and four rebounds.
The NJCAA ruled SCF has to forfeit all its games that guard Anders Haas played in because the organization said he played on a professional team, the Horsholm 79ers, in his home country of Denmark.
Haas has maintained that he never got paid, and the club verified that in a letter. It is common in Europe for amateurs and professionals to play together and most of those players who do not get paid are allowed to play NCAA college basketball.
SCF in a statement released after the game that it strongly disagreed with the ruling. SCF president Dr. Carol Probstfeld, who was in attendance, concurred.
"We disagree with the ruling and we are disappointed. We are very proud of the players and coaches," she said.
Haas is no longer listed on the SCF roster or in its stats. The guard from Copenhagen was averaging 17-plus points per game and led the team in assists.
Under the ruling, SCF finishes 5-4 in the conference and 5-25 overall. Its record without the forfeits is 23-7 and 6-3 in conference play.