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Rebels to face tough showdown in semis

HUTCHINSON, Kansas — Despite a No. 1 ranking, Dixie College entered the field of 16 teams at the NJCAA championship tournament as unknown as everybody else.

With little or no television exposure and teams from small towns in states as far-flung as Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Alabama and Utah, nobody knew what to expect.

Now, with just four teams remaining in the championship bracket and after showcasing its superb defensive game for all to see, the Rebels are poised to leave a lasting mark and perhaps bring home a national title. Friday night at 5:30 p.m. (MST), they will tip off against third-ranked Wabash Valley (Illinois).

The game has all the ingredients of a classic. Each team won Wednesday night in overtime. Wabash overcame a five-point deficit in the final minute of regulation to force an overtime in which it handled Schoolcraft College and won going away 94-86.

The Rebels gave up a five-point lead with around two minutes remaining and salvaged an overtime win on a miraculous coast-to-coast layup by Marcus Banks that crawled over the rim as the final buzzer sounded for a 68-67 victory over Okaloosa-Walton (Florida).

Besides being ranked in the NJCAA national polls, each team has a 34-1 record, the only teams in the tournament with a single loss on the season. The game has added intrigue because Dixie, as one of the lowest-scoring teams in the field, has held two offensively minded teams around 30 points below their scoring average.

Unlike the first two Rebel opponents, Wabash relies heavily on its defense. Dixie's offense has struggled at times, creating eight- and 13-minute stretches without field goals in the first two games.

Each team rested Thursday as the lower half of the bracket completed its play and rounded out the final four, but Dixie coach Jeff Kidder sounded as if he hardly thought the rest was needed.

"We play good, tough teams in our league back-to-back all year. The stakes are awfully high (here), but we had to beat very good teams on the road to win our league. It is nothing new for our team."

In Thursday's action, sixth-ranked Indian Hills (Iowa), winners of three of the last four national titles, beat unranked Georgia Perimeter 71-67. Indian Hills (32-3) is 173-10 over the last four years.

In the other quarterfinal, tenth-ranked Allegeny (Maryland) dropped Westark (Alabama) 67-62. The Trojans scored the last six points of the game and will face Indian Hills tonight at 7:15 p.m. (MST). The semifinals feature four top-10 squads with a combined record of 131-7.