By Ted Waddell
DELHI March 20, 2001 Sullivan County Community Colleges (SCCC) dreams of a fourth National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III title in school history ended Saturday night at SUNY Delhi, as the Suns of Cedar Valley College (TX) dissected the Generals 78-55.
This marked Sullivans seventh trip to Delhi. The team took the championship trophy home to Lock Sheldrake in 1992, 95 and 96, compiling a 13-4 record in games at the national tourney.
In an emotion filled, very physical game that almost got out of hand on a couple of contentious occasions, the Generals started to lose their cool as it became evident that the Comeback Kids were headed for a resounding defeat.
The Generals got to the Nationals on the heels of taking the NJCAA Region XV tourney, coming from behind to win three games in a row.
In their first game of the Nationals, the Generals eked out a victory in the closing seconds after falling behind to the Knights of Montgomery College (MD).
In their second test at Delhi, they trailed the Ironmen of Vermilion Community College (MN) before devastating them in the second half of the semifinal game.
In the finals, it rapidly became apparent that the Comeback Kids had run out of gas. The Luck of the Irish deserted the Generals (294) on St. Patricks Day, as the Suns (286) jumped out to an uncontested eight-point lead in the opening minutes of the game.
While the Generals responded with a collective expression of this cant be happening to us, the Suns never looked back.
As Sullivans offense started to fall apart at the seams, sophomore forward Justin Dawson, a graduate of Monticello High, got so frustrated with the turn of events that he stood mid court with clenched fists and screamed at the heavens.
Dawsons days in the temperamental doghouse werent quite over yet, as midway through the second frame, he punched his chair and stormed off to the locker room after being substituted.
With seconds remaining on the game clock, Dawson clotheslined Suns guard Chris Tunstall as he drove to the bucket. Dawson was charged with a personal foul, picked up his second technical and his fifth personal foul and was done for the game.
As the frustration level rose, the Comeback Kids turned into the Lose Your Cool & the Gang, as the officials called sophomore center Curtis Henry on a second half tech. In the opening frame, Generals assistant mens basketball coach Chris DePew was charged with a technical after he ran afoul of the refs.
The Generals offense was smothered by an aggressive Suns defense, as coach Rick McCormick switched from man-to-man to zone, a tactic that worked in keeping Sullivan of balance.
In the first half, the Suns led by as many as 22 points and went into the break with a 37-17 lead.
Sullivan managed a disappointing 33.3 percent field goal shooting average, while Cedar Valley shot 53.7 percent. The Suns were 8 of 17 from behind the three-point arc; Sullivan connected on only 1 of 15.
Sullivans Kris Ibezim was tabbed for the national tourneys all-star team, and racked up 12 points during the final. Also making it to double digits: Shiron Rankin (12) and Dereck Rankin (10).
For the Suns: tourney MVP Reggie Griffin (28), Nik Douyias (13) and Ian Jones (10).
The game ended on a sour note, as rumors of Sullivan players engaged in a locker room fight turned out to be a melee outside the gym that according to DePew was sparked when a male Delhi student allegedly punched the girlfriend of a Generals hoopster in the face and then ran off in a crowd.
As the Generals rallied to her defense, NY State Police Troopers, local cops and coaches/officials got things back under control within a few tense minutes.
To get to this game, both basketball teams had to be very good, said Cedar Valley coach Rick McCormick. Going into this game, we knew the keys [to success] were going to be rebounding and controlling the pace and tempo
and fortunately, we got off to a good start.
Weve got a team by committee, added McCormick who was selected as the NJCAA Division III Coach of the Year. Two guys average double figures, and different people step up every night.
According to SCCC coach Will Brown, when you play three games in as many days at a national tourney its hard to shake off the rust picked up following a two-week layoff after the Region XV tourney, hosted by SCCC.
You have to play at a high energy level, and we were a step slow today, said Brown. We lost it in the first half. We played them even in the second half, but we couldnt chip away at their lead. We couldnt make a run.
Im proud of my kids, he added. But Im disappointed that we didnt give a better fight tonight. The bottom line is, that youve got to be mentally tough to win three games in three days. We just werent that tough.
Deficit Made Up
On Friday night, the Generals defeated Vermilion 96-75, rebounding from a 15-point deficit in the opening half. With 4:55 left in the first half, the Generals trailed the Ironmen 40-25 and it looked like it was going to be curtains for the Sullivan hoopsters.
The Generals ended the first half on a 17-4 run, slicing Vermilions lead to two points (44-42) at the half. Early in the second frame, Dereck Rankin dropped a trey to give the Generals the lead, and although the Ironmen (277) closed to within a point moments later, Sullivan opened up a 15-point lead (68-53) after Ty Brunson hit a bucket with 11:02 remaining on the game ticker.
Vermilions Aaron Bell cut it to 75-71 with a three at 7:03, but the Generals slipped the clutch and smoked it to the finish line, a come from behind performance that brought the large contingent of Sullivan fans to their feet, cheering as if to bring the roof down.
SCCC shot 60 percent from the field, including a sweltering 68 percent in the second half. The Generals mastered the Ironmen 48-22 on the boards, as they held Vermilion to a 36 percent shooting in the second half.
In the second half, Sullivan turned up the heat from the three-point line, hitting 6 of 8.
Double digit hoopsters for SCCC: Dereck Rankin (21), Ty Brunson (18), Justin Dawson (16) and Earv Opong (15).
Vermilion: Aaron Bell (25), Chris Brooks (14), Edward Smith (12) and Ken Hathorne (11).
We played a great second half, said Will Brown. When we rebound and defend, were tough to beat. And then if we shoot like we did tonight, look out.
Opening Night Barnburner
In the opening round of the Nationals, it looked like the SCCC Generals were headed up to the stands to watch the rest of the tourney from the bleachers.
The Generals took to the floor as the third-ranked team in the country. In the first round, they faced off against the unranked Knights of Montgomery College (MD).
The underdogs kept pace with Sullivan, as the lead changed hands a dozen times in the second half.
Sullivan opened the door to a Montgomery victory by getting into foul trouble early, as they sent the Knights up to the free throw line 20 times in the first half.
In the closing minutes, it appeared as if the Generals were going to continue their pattern of lackluster play in recent games, as they allowed the Knights (1615) to take a 65-60 lead with 5:34 remaining in the game.
With the Generals trailing 65-62, Kris Ibezims jumper bounced off the rim but sophomore center Curtis Henry snatched the ball on its way down and slammed it home with such force that it bent the metal.
Henrys performance rallied SCCC and roused the Sullivan crowd, as it ignited a 11-6 run to put away the Knights
Sullivan didnt give up, and tied it up at 65-65 on a couple of free throws by Shiron Brown at 4:04. The Generals took the lead on a pair of shots from the foul line by Dereck Brown at 3:30 to make it a 67-65 contest.
With 44.2 seconds left in the game and the scoreboard at 72-71 in favor of Sullivan, Ibezim grabbed a critical rebound off the glass to end Montgomerys last minute surge. Brown hit two free throws from the line at the 18-second mark to wrap up the victory for the Generals.
This game was like the TV show Survivor, said coach Will Brown. We did what we had to do to survive.
We didnt defend well, we didnt rebound well and we didnt make the shots, he added, so I guess Ive got to be happy with the win.
Browns take on his team giving the opposition twenty-some trips to the free throw line in the fist half?
It was almost like they were going by the theory, If you cant stop them, chop em, he said. I had five men with scissor hands on the floor.
Ive got to be happy that we made the final four, Brown said.
Generals racking up double figures: Shiron Brown (20) and Dereck Rankin (13). Montgomery: Keenan Williams (16), Vernon Buckle (13) and Cory Burns (12).