South Suburban College basketball makes strong NCJAA showing
You just get the sense South Suburban men’s basketball coach John Pigatti and his Bulldogs day is soon coming.
For the second straight season, South Suburban advanced to the semifinals of the NJCAA Division II National Tournament, this time falling 86-73 to Louisburg (N.C.) at Danville Area Community College on March 24.
The Bulldogs bested Richard Bland (Virginia) 54-53 in the third-place game Saturday evening, capping a run of four games in five days.
Armon Benford and Rasheide Bell scored 13 points each to lead the Bulldogs (24-12). Bell added six rebounds. He and Anthony Harris, who had 11 points, were named to the all-tournament team.
Against Louisburg, the Bulldogs were led by sophomore guard Bell with 28 points, including 15 over the final six-minutes that cut SSC’s deficit to 76-71 before Louisburg closed on a 10-2 run.
SSC raced out to a 27-20 first quarter lead, but with little contribution from their bench trailed 38-37 at halftime.
Sophomore Harris chipped in with 11 points for the Bulldogs, who saw their first 11 losses this season come for using an ineligible player after opening the season at 20-0.
South Suburban’s latest deep tournament run came in a season that also saw Pigatti notch his 300th career victory, all of them coming while leading the Bulldogs over the last 10 seasons.
"John has done a great job of recruiting, and once the kids get here, he quickly instills in them that the goal is all about winning a national title," SSC Athletic Director Steve Ruzich told South Cook News. "We're right there, getting closer all the time."
Coming off a school record 34 wins in 2015-16, the Bulldogs opened this season 7-0, earning Pigatti HoopDirt.com JUCO Coach of the Week honors for a week that saw SSC knock off defending National Champion Rock Valley College.
Pigatti was also tabbed Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Junior College Division II and Region IV-B Coach of the Year last season, with the team finishing the year ranked No. 3 team in the nation. The Bulldogs were also crowned Region IV champs in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
First-year players Jordan Matthews, Brian Thomas, Haashim Keys and Lee Howard are all slated to return next season.
Bell finished the year averaging 16 points for the Bulldogs, who won their first two games of the tournament by an average of 24 points and posted a double-digit margin win in each of their first 23 victories this season.
South Suburban is Pigatti's first head coaching gig. Entering this year’s tournament, he had a postseason record of 41-11. Six of his teams finished with at least 30 regular season wins each over his first 10 seasons and they ranked in the top 10 in the country in each of those years.
"John puts a lot of time in," Ruzich said. "We've always had a rich tradition, but he's definitely taken things to the next level."