In all honesty, Carl Howell knew this was as far as the Tacoma Titans would go this year in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges men’s basketball tournament.
And that’s OK by the man in charge.
In a rematch of the NWAACC title game last season – won by the Titans – sixth-ranked Chemeketa CC, from Salem, Ore., survived a late charge by the Titans for an 84-81 victory in the quarterfinals at the Toyota Center in Kennewick on Sunday afternoon.
The Storm (19-8) held a 62-46 led with 14 minutes, 3 seconds remaining before the No. 5 Titans made one championship run at them, outscoring Chemeketa, 18-1, over the next 41/2 minutes.
“We switched to a 2-3 zone defense, and just kind of got refocused, and it caught them a little bit off guard,” Howell said.
Julian Vaughn’s inside basket gave TCC (20-9) a 64-63 lead with 9:48 to go.
But Chemeketa regained the lead for good with a pair of 3-pointers, and kept it by making eight of its 10 free throws in the final minute.
Josh Lord led the Titans with 21 points. Darius Johnson-Wilson added 19 points, and Vaughn scored 17 points.
The Storm was paced by Jordan Batey’s 21 points – and had a decisive advantage from the free-throw line (Chemeketa was 26-for-34; TCC 8-for-15).
“Their two leading scorers, we did a good job on them. Their role guys really stepped up,” Howell said.
TCC faces Whatcom CC at 2 p.m. today for a chance to play for fifth place in the NWAACC tournament.
“The reality of it, we have a chance to take home a trophy,” Howell said. “If somebody would have told me we’d be here a couple months ago, I might not have believed him.
“We are like a skeleton crew right now.”