By Rob Potter
DELHI March 20, 2007 A few minutes after the Sullivan County Community College (SCCC) Generals played their first game in the 2007 National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Men’s Basketball National Championship Tournament on Thursday afternoon in the Floyd L. Maines Arena at Clark Field House at SUNY Delhi, Coach Chris DePew wiped his hand across his forehead.
“Whew,” he said to the reporters seated before him.
Clearly, DePew and his players were relieved to have defeated Montgomery College of Rockville, Md. in the tourney opener.
Despite taking an 11-point lead midway through the second half, SCCC (30-0) needed some clutch foul shooting in the final seconds to hold off Montgomery, 72-69.
With 15.8 seconds remaining, SCCC’s Michael Hines calmly made a pair of free throws to give his team a three-point advantage.
Following a timeout, Montgomery (20-12) inbounded the ball and set up its halfcourt offense in order to get a 3-point shot to tie the game and send it into overtime. With two seconds left, Montgomery freshman forward Herbert Spellman Jr., who was being closely defended by Generals’ sophomore center Donte Harrison, took an off-balanced shot from just beyond the 19-foot, 9-inch arc.
The ball fell short of the rim, however, and bounced away from the players gathered under the basket for a rebound. The buzzer sounded before any of the Knights could put up another shot.
“We played like a team that hasn’t played a game in two weeks,” DePew said moments after the game. “We were rusty.”
Back on March 4, SCCC defeated Nassau Community College to win the Region XV title and earn a berth in the NJCAA Division III tourney at SUNY Delhi. DePew said he gave the Generals a couple of days off following that victory. He then allowed his players to go home and visit their families on the weekend of March 10-11.
Although they committed 20 turnovers, the Generals shot nearly 50 percent (30-for-61) from the field and outrebounded Montgomery, 45-31.
Sophomore forward Jason Johnson noted that he and his fellow Generals, none of whom have ever been to the national championship tournament, “had some butterflies” during the first half.
“As we got into the game in the second half, we got down to business,” he said.
Johnson recorded a double- double, scoring a game-high 19 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. Bertram McDowell netted 18 points and pulled down nine rebounds, Harrison had 15 points and Josh Lott added 12 points and six assists.
One of Lott’s assists came with 1:55 remaining as he threw an alley-oop pass to Harrison.
“I caught the ball, but I was a little nervous because I was behind the backboard,” Harrison said. “I was praying for it to go in.”
Harrison’s prayer was answered as the basketball rolled off his fingertips and fell through the net. The basket was one of the key scores in the contest, as it gave the Generals a little momentum and a 68-64 lead.
Montgomery Coach Steve Hobson said he was very aware of Harrison and Johnson, the Generals’ 6-foot-8 “twin towers,” prior to the game.
“We knew we would have our hands full,” he said. “Sullivan was 29 and 0 coming in and we knew we would have to play a great game to beat them.
“Harrison and Johnson played well, but number 42 [McDowell] and number 5 [Lott] really did us in,” Hobson added.
Freshman guard Ronald Ringgold Jr. led the Knights with 18 points, half of which were the result of a trio of successful 3-point shots. Spellman finished the afternoon with 12 points, while Arthur Dabney and Armond Hill added 11 points apiece for Montgomery.
“We are really happy to move on to the Final Four,” DePew said. “At the beginning of the season, we hoped to be here, dreamed about being here. To be undefeated at 30-0 is just great, this has been one of my most memorable seasons.”
“Thirty and 0 feels really good,” Johnson said. “But we are not finished yet. We want two more wins and that [championship] ring. Winning the national championship is our goal.”