By Rob Potter
DELHI March 20, 2007 Mission accomplished.
When the 2006-2007 college basketball season began back in November, the Sullivan County Community College Generals decided that their ultimate goal for the season would be to win the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III national championship.
On Saturday night at SUNY Delhi, the Generals achieved that goal.
SCCC became only the fourth undefeated NJCAA Div. III national champion in history by stopping Northland (Minn.) Community Technical College, 74-68, in the title game of the 2007 national tournament.
The Generals completed the season with a perfect 32-0 record. Northland, the Region XIII champion, ended its campaign with a 29-5 mark.
The national championship is SCCC’s first since 1996 and the fourth in school history.
However, SCCC trailed the Pioneers for much of the first half in the title tilt. Northland took a 13-7 lead when Kyrk Freeman scored with 13:35 left until the intermission.
After the Generals took an 18-17 advantage when Sayed Ali completed an old-fashioned 3-point play four minutes later, the Pioneers regained the lead when
Travis Lage scored inside the lane.
At the 7:03 mark, Tomas Loberg scored under the hoop to give Northland a 24-18 lead.
With just 4/10ths of a second on the clock, SCCC sophomore point guard Josh Lott swished a pair of free throws to cut the Pioneers’ lead to 36-34.
Northland took a six-point advantage in the first two minutes of the second half, but the Generals quickly closed the gap.
From the 15-minute mark until the three-minute mark, the score was tied on three occasions and the teams exchanged the lead several times.
But with 1:22 remaining, Lott hit the shot of the game. With the Generals holding a 67-65 lead, he swished a 3-pointer from near the top of the key to extend his team’s advantage to five points.
Freeman hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to pull the Pioneers to within two points at 70-68.
However, SCCC sophomore forward Jason Johnson made a pair of foul shots with 24.1 seconds on the clock to give his team a 72-68 lead.
When the final buzzer sounded, the jubilant Generals piled on each other at center court. Coach Chris DePew, Assistant Coach Troy Nowlin and the players exchanged hugs and high-fives as they waited to receive the national championship trophy.
“I’m just floored,” said Depew, whose eyes were moist from shedding many tears of joy. “I’m just so proud of these 11 players. They have been through so much this year. To come out here and win the national championship and be undefeated is just amazing.
“I’m humbled by it,” he added. “I’m humbled by being at the national championships, playing in the title game and winning it all. I love these players and I am so proud of what they have accomplished this season.”
Leading the SCCC offense was sophomore center Donte Harrison, who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Lott finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Johnson added 11 points and nine rebounds, while Bertram McDowell had 11 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
Freeman paced Northland with 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Loberg added 19 points and six rebounds for the Pioneers.
Lott was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), while Johnson was selected for the All-Tournament Team.
Freeman was one of the other players chosen for the All-Tournament Team.
As he looked around at his players receiving congratulatory hugs and handshakes from family members and friends as well as SCCC staff members and students, DePew thought about past Generals’ coaches and teams.
“This is for Will Brown and all of the other coaches who had good teams and expectations but never made it here,” said DePew, who was honored as the Gary Cole Coach of the Tournament.
The coach, who is in his ninth year of leading the SCCC men’s hoops program, noted that throughout the season, the Generals had a great deal of confidence in each other.
“We would talk in a timeout or halftime when we were down on the scoreboard, and they were always like “We can comeback, we can win this game,”’ DePew said.
Lott echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“We always have hope,” Lott said. “We never lost our composure. We were down six points a couple of times tonight, but we felt we could come back and win.”
Having that positive attitude helped Lott knock down his crucial 3-pointer late in the game.
“That was important, it put us over the hump,” he said. “I enjoy taking big shots like that.”
A few moments after the game, Lott said that the fact that he and his teammates are national champions had not hit him yet.
“I’ll probably feel it later at the hotel,” he commented.
Like Lott, Johnson said what the team had accomplished had yet to sink in.
“We’re national champions, but it really hasn’t hit me yet,” Johnson commented. “It feels great now, but I’ll really feel it later on.”
Northland Coach Rick Nikumen said that he wasn’t too surprised that the Generals were able to recover and win after falling behind in the first half.
“They are a great team and very well-coached,” he said. “Coming back like that against us shows the difference between an experienced team and an inexperienced team.”
Nikumen noted that he has just one sophomore on his team. Conversely, SCCC has eight sophomores on its roster.
“I’m proud of my guys, they played hard the whole game,” Nikumen commented. “They hustled the entire time and they did that all year.”
DePew was impressed with Northland, which is located in Thief River Falls, Minn.
“That is a very good basketball team,” he said. “The players compete with class and they are some of the nicest kids you could ever meet. That says a lot about their coaches and their program.”
DePew also noted that one of the Northland players returned to the court after the game to congratulate him and the Generals.
“For a player to come out of the locker room after talking with his coaches and teammates after losing a championship game to congratulate us shows a lot of class,” DePew said.
Generals top Quinsigamond
SCCC reached the title game by beating Quinsigamond (Mass.) Community College, 83-76, on Friday night in a semifinal contest.
Lott paced the Generals with 20 points and five assists, while Johnson recorded a double-double by scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Also reaching double figures in the scoring column for SCCC were McDowell (17 points), Michael Hines (13 points) and Harrison (10 points).