Come Friday night, a Hancock College men's basketball team will be in the state tournament for the first time since 1974, when the Bulldogs WON the state tournament.
This time, Hancock (23-9) will take on City College of San Francisco (30-1) at Ventura College at 7 p.m. Friday night in the first round. The semifinals are on Saturday. The championship game will take place Sunday. The entire tournament will take place at Ventura College.
The four Southern California Regional final winners will join the four Northern Regional final winners at the state tournament. Besides riding a long winning streak, the Rams, who average 91.7 points a game, are the top seed from the north. The Bulldogs are the No. 4 seed from the south.
The Rams have won 26 straight. They haven't lost since Nov. 17.
All that doesn't seem to faze Hancock coach Tyson Aye or his players. The Bulldogs have grounds to have a high degree of confidence. They won in overtime at two higher seeds in their two regional wins, including a 92-91 double overtime victory at No. 2 San Bernardino Valley College in a regional final Saturday night.
Aye and some his players spoke at a Hancock practice Tuesday.
"We think we can play with anybody," said Hancock sophomore point guard Shane Carney. "At this level, you have to put the ball in the basket and we do that was well as anyone in the state."
Carney has been scoring plenty himself. He leads the team at 17.3 points a game, and he made a layup with two seconds left in the first overtime at SBVC to force the second overtime.
Carney said the Bulldogs weren't fazed when the Wolverines were ahead 26-11 early.
"We'd seen film on them, and they got a big lead (in the previous game) and gave it up," the sophomore point guard said.
As the regional final went along, "We could see that trend continuing," said Carney. Eventually, the Bulldogs tagged the Wolverines with their first home loss and ended SBVC's 14-game winning streak.
San Francisco's team shooting percentage is a healthy 47.9 percent from the field. The Rams shoot a lot of 3-pointers, about 30 a game, and they make a lot of them, an average of 11.5 a game.
Opponents shoot just 38.9 percent from the field, though they are at a decent 31 percent from 3-point range. The Bulldogs did the job well enough on offense against a good defensive team, SBVC, on the road to get to the state playoffs.
The Bulldogs will have to contend with a lot of CCSF scoring balance. Terrell Brown leads the Rams at 15.9 points a game, Eddie Stansbury is at 12.6 and Eddy Ionescu averages 10.5 Four more players average at least nine points a game.
Despite being about to go against all that high-powered offense, "I think we're going to play our regular style against them," said Hancock freshman guard Glenn Jordan.
"We'll see film on them today, and I know our coach will put in an excellent game plan for us. But I don't see us slowing down our game."
The Hancock offense doesn't slow down much, save when the Bulldogs are trying to milk the clock with a late lead. They average a healthy 76.5 points a game.
The Bulldogs have scored most of their points near the rim this year, but they are adept at shooting the 3-pointer. Like the Rams, they have good scoring balance. Devin Davis averages 11.2 points a game and Jordan averages 10.7.
Carney, Davis and Jordan were all All-Conference for the Bulldogs this year. Hancock suffered a big loss when its fourth all-conference player, freshman power forward Spirit Ricks, was lost for the rest of the season after suffering what Aye said was a dislocated ankle at Fullerton in the first half.
Santa Maria High grad Shemarr Parker had a solid game in Ricks' place, and Aye figures to start Parker again Friday night. Parker, in just his second start, scored eight points and snared six rebounds in the regional final.
"Shemarr has done a remarkable job for us, especially since he didn't get a lot of time after coming in from football," said Aye.
Parker was a reserve offensive lineman for the 2017 Hancock football team that won the Pacific League championship and made it to a bowl game.
"It took me about two or three weeks to get into basketball shape after coming in from football," Parker said.
He's 6-foot-4, 265 and, though he has a deft touch from the outside for a big man, it's in the lane where Parker has his biggest impact.
"When he's on you, you'll feel it," said Aye.
Parker said the Bulldogs weren't worried when they trailed by four with just 48 seconds left in the first overtime at SBVC. "We all have absolute faith in each other," Parker said.
Ultimately, Carney made a layup with two seconds left to force a second overtime. Kevin Baines made a big put-back basket for the Bulldogs in the second overtime, and he grabbed the rebound on a missed Wolverines foul shot and Hancock ahead 91-90 with two seconds left.
Baines was fouled. He missed both subsequent free throws but, "He missed the second one on purpose," said Aye.
"We called a timeout before he took that one. We didn't want them to be able to throw a long pass," off a made free throw.
SBVC's subsequent full-court heave "came close," said Aye, but it was short.
Aye said, "Even during conditioning, we could see that this was going to be a special season. Our conditioning drills were much more extensive than last year.
"We had 21 guys, and we wanted to weed out the ones who weren't ready for college ball. Not only were we not able to weed anyone out, no one even came close to quitting."
Aye said the Bulldogs will suit up 11 players for the state tournament.
"This has been a very special group, with the chemistry," said Aye. "These guys have played very unselfish basketball all year."