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Cardinals erase 20 point deficit to claim first NWAC Basketball Championship in 90-83 win over Peninsula

Championship team photo

North Idaho 90, Peninsula 83 stats

Game Photos | Bracket | Video Replay

By Eric Trent for NWAC

EVERETT -- The North Idaho Cardinals rallied from a 20-point second half deficit to subdue the Peninsula Pirates 90-83 and claim its first ever Northwest Athletic Conference championship.

Freshman guard RayQuan Evans won tournament MVP while scoring 28 points to lead the Cardinals, including 22 in the second half and 10 in overtime. Evans scored 29 in the semi-finals.

“It feels good,” Evans said. “To come out here and win the whole thing is amazing.”

The Cardinals entered as the No. 3 seed against the second-seeded Pirates, but don’t tell them they were the underdogs.

“We never feel like we’re the underdogs,” Symons said. “I think we’re really happy with our team and confident. Obviously, we were on the bracket, but we think we can beat anyone in the country.”

It’s the first championship for North Idaho Men's Basketball since joining the NWAC last season.

The Cardinals upset a pair of No. 1 seeds in the Elite 8 and Final Four to reach the title game.

The Cardinals ousted No. 2 seed Lower Columbia 86-68 in the first round, upset No. 1 seed Everett 112-110 in double overtime in the Elite 8, then took a 79-73 win over top-seeded Portland to reach the championship.

Sophomore guard Aushanti Potts-Woods won Most Inspirational for his 23-point effort off the bench, all in the second half, that gave the Cardinals the spark they needed down the stretch.

“It feels amazing,” Potts-Woods said. “We put in all this work. I’m speechless.”

The Cardinals dug themselves a huge hole in the first 16 minutes, surrendering a 23-8 run over the course of eight minutes to trail 36-19 with 3:28 remaining before the half.

“They kind of punched us first,” Evans said. “We had to go play-by-play, cut it down and we eventually did.”

The Cardinals came firing back in the final three minutes before the break, sparked by a corner trey from Charles Williams.

The Cardinals then went on a 10-5 run to end the first half, taking advantage of offensive boards to close the Pirates lead to 41-32.
Potts-Woods said the Cardinals weren’t discouraged by the halftime deficit.

“When we went back to the locker room at the half, we told each other to stick together and keep playing hard,” Potts-Woods said. “Keep working at it, chip away and we’ll come back slowly.”

North Idaho dominated on the boards in the first half, out-rebounding the Pirates 24-17, including a 10-4 advantage on the offensive boards.

Iain McLaughlin led the Cardinals in the first half, scoring 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting.

Right out the gates after the break, Peninsula increased its lead to 20 by breaking off an 11-0 run to start the half.

“They threw their hardest punch at us,” Potts-Woods said.

But, once again, the Cardinals wouldn’t go away. North Idaho used a 11-2 run, capped by a deep 3 from Tyler Brimhall, to close the lead to 56-43 with 12:13 left.

North Idaho then reeled off an 13-0 run on eight points from Rayquan Evans, tying the game at 60 with 6:50 remaining.

The crowd erupted when the Cardinals took the lead, 64-62, on an Evan's loose-ball grab and layup, their first lead since the opening minutes of the game.

With Peninsula trailing 72-71 with 19 seconds remaining, the Pirates’ Burton went to the free-throw line, hit the front-end, missed the back-end, but grabbed his own rebound and threw it up to give the Pirates a 74-72 lead with 12 seconds left.

Evans streamed down the court, went up for a shot and was fouled, then nailed two free-throws to tie the game and send it to overtime.
The Cardinals dominated in overtime and Evans’ 10 points sealed the 90-83 win.

“It’s pretty special,” Symons said. “I feel like it hasn’t sunk in yet, but these kids deserve it. They’ve worked hard all year, I’m just happy for them.”

All-Tournament Team
MVP: RayQuan Evans, North Idaho
Most Inspirational: Aushanti Potts-Woods, North Idaho

First Team
Aushanti Potts-Woods, North Idaho
Colby Jackson, Peninsula
Trent Van Cleave, Linn-Benton
Cameron Retherferd, Portland
Cameron Burton, Peninsula

Second Team
Iain McLaughlin, North Idaho
Taylor Jensen, Linn-Benton
Lane Josi, Portland
Trent Warren, Peninsula
Jalen Burkett, North Idaho

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