By Ted Waddell
LOCH SHELDRAKE February 14, 2003 Tuesdays game between the Sullivan County Community College Generals and the visiting Ulster Community College Senators was a double feature Down in the Bunker at Paul Gerry Fieldhouse.
The opening show was titled Civics 101 as the Generals rebounded from a slow start to defeat the Senators, 85-74.
It was Tuesday Night at the Fights in the second feature as tempers flared after the game and all hell broke loose in a melee of punches and verbal taunts.
With the slim win, the Generals clinched the Mid-Hudson Conference Championship.
Despite still being ranked number one in the nation in the NJCAA Division III Mens Basketball Poll released on the eve of the game, the Generals seemed to take their time waking up to the fact that they were facing an unranked team intent on knocking them off the catbirds seat.
At the halftime buzzer, SCCCs Haron Hargrave launched a shot from the three-quarter court mark that swished the basket. But the refs ruled it was a no-go, as time had run out before the ball fell through the net.
The Generals (20-3, 14-0 Region XV) took a narrow 40-39 lead into the locker room at the half.
Apparently the SCCC coaching staff handed out a few extra doses of No-Doze, as the Generals returned to the floor with their eyes wide open.
But the Senators (9-13, 6-8 Region XV) still had a lot of fight left in their bag.
With 6:30 left in the game, Ulster closed the Generals double digit lead to two at 60-58, and SCCC faced the stark prospect of being defeated on their own court for the first time in 61 games.
Seconds later, Gary Jones started the Generals on a scoring run.
By 5:50, SCCC was back up by 10 points (68-58).
A couple of minutes later, the score was 79-63. And the rest was history, as SCCC finished up the civics lesson.
Generals who reached the land of double digits included Jones, who netted a game-high 30 points, and Haron Hargrave, who scored 13 points.
Three UCC players Josef Woldense, Dan Whalen and Charles Curnell scored in double figures. Woldense led the way with 18 points, Whalen had 17 points and Curnell added 15.
Stats from the free throw line: SCCC 13/25 (52%); UCC 12/19 (63%).
After the final buzzer, things got uncivil.
Accounts differ as to exactly what sparked the fight, but a couple of things are clear: pushes led to fists, and both coaching staffs were instrumental in quelling the melee before it got totally out of hand.
As the fight erupted, a few fans of both squads decided to join the action, a factor that could have easily made an ugly situation a lot worse.
My guy [Willy Vargas] got chopped in the throat right at the beginning, said Ulster Community College Coach Ted Van Dyke. It was their coach who initiated the fight . . . he said something to one of my players.
Moving away from murky waters, Van Dyke said, We played a decent basketball game . . . their pride got hurt [because] they were supposed to blow us out.
We played hard in the first half, but had some lapses in our defense in the second half, added the coach, who also serves as pastor of The Living Word Chapel of Kingston.
Were looking for love, not fights, Van Dyke said.
SCCC Coach Chad Beeten had a different take on what incited the fight.
I was speaking to their coach [after the game] about a verbal exchange that was made earlier, and one of their kids came through the pack and pushed me, Beeten said. In retaliation, one of my kids pushed him away from me, and one of their kids threw a punch.
Beeten said the UCC player was a bench warmer, not a starter.
Thats when it erupted, added Beeten. My kids came to my defense, and as much as its appreciated, weve got to learn to back off. Its a shame . . . we [the opposing coaches] see things a lot differently [about what happened].
Back to the game of hoops.
It was real sloppy, Beeten said. We played down to our competition, and it showed.
The Generals coach credited several horses for pulling SCCCs wagon out of the mire: Haron Hargrave made some good shots, Glenn Davis made some plays on the offensive end and Gary Jones and Darius Waters made inside buckets when we needed them.
Nobody played particularly well defensively, he added. Im just happy that we won.
SCCC Athletic Director and Assistant Mens Basketball Coach Chris DePew said he talked with UCC Athletic Director Kate Smith about the post-game fight. Right out there on the floor, not over the phone.
We agreed that players from both teams and fans from both schools were involved, DePew said. Weve got to deal with it and move on.
My coach and their coach have completely different views as to how it went down, he added. Thats pretty interesting considering they were standing there shaking each others hands when it started.
Bringing the focus back to the game itself, DePew praised the effort put forth by the Senators.
Theyre a scrappy little team, he said. They do everything their coach asks them to do and he gets the most out of those kids.
Were very lucky we pulled this one out, DePew added.
According to Sullivans AD, the win over UCC represented the accomplishment of the first of the Generals four major goals for 2002-2003 season, which was clinching the Mid-Hudson Conference Championship. The other three, in order, are locking down the number one seed for the Region XV tourney, winning the Region XV crown and taking the national title at SUNY Delhi.
Winning the NJCAA National Championship is our dream, DePew said.