Story by Eli Ruiz
LOCH SHELDRAKE March 19, 2013 A 24-6 late first-half run gave the host Generals of SUNY Sullivan a three-point edge, erasing the 19-0 run they allowed Herkimer Community College early in their first round game in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III national tournament.
But poor shooting (5-28 from three-point range), and a stout Herkimer zone defense prevented Sullivan from capturing its fifth national title losing a heartbreaker, 79-72 Thursday in front of a capacity crowd at the Paul Gerry Fieldhouse.
Sullivan would go on to defeat Rochester in the first game of the consolation bracket before losing to Caldwell to finish in sixth place in the tournament. The Generals ended the season 31-5.
An emotional coach Kevin DeVantier tried to deflect the disappointment of his team by shouldering the blame for the loss.
“We did some things that just are uncharacteristic of ourselves tonight. I thought I just did a terrible job,” said DeVantier. “You know, we go down 18 [points] because I’m frantic trying to win the game on one possession. They followed me all year; so what do they do? They were frantic and trying to win it all in one possession too and that’s my fault.
“They did everything they were supposed to do. They did everything we taught them to do, but their coach was terrible tonight,” concluded DeVantier.
SUNY Sullivan’s all-region point guard Marcus Henderson who finished with 12 points, hitting just three of 16 three-point attempts was a bit more reflective:
“I mean it hurts a little bit but at the same time it just happens. I feel happy with our effort and we gave it our all. I love my teammates to death, I’d die for them any day.”
Regarding his several deep misses, Henderson said, “I normally take deep shots because being that I’m so short I have to have unlimited range, because they can just block my shot anytime, so if I have unlimited range, [thehope is] it’ll open up things for myself and for my teammates. Tonight it just wasn’t dropping, that’s all.”
The game opened with a special message and a somber moment of silence for the four victims of a gunman’s reportedly unprovoked shooting spree at a Herkimer barber shop that caused a temporary lockdown at the upstate junior college. Two of the four killed were Village of Herkimer residents, while the other two victims were from the neighboring Village of Mohawk.
Said Herkimer head coach Matt Lee of the tragedy, “To be honest we were already on our bus and on our way for the tournament when we received news of the shootings and subsequent lockdown. Though we obviously weren’t directly affected by the lockdown, that is our town, and those were our neighbors. Our hearts are heavy.”
With Sullivan coming in ranked third in the nation and Herkimer fourth, at least on paper, the teams appeared similarly matched; in-fact, both squads had identical 30-3 records; both had lost games to Division 1 ASA and Division 2 Monroe and both teams, ironically, call themselves “the Generals.”
Herkimer took control early, shutting down the normally explosive Sullivan offense on their way to a 22-7 lead eight minutes into the contest.
It took Mohamed Dansoko’s second free throw attempt to break the more than five-minute scoreless span for the host Generals making the score 22-8 with just under 11 minutes left in the first half. Sullivan seemed to wake up soon after and leveraged a bevy of turnovers by Herkimer and the inspired play of Darien Croft and Maurice Eastwood to go on the aforementioned 24-6 run, enabling them to pull ahead with just over two minutes left in the first half.
Still, Herkimer would quickly rally behind Todd Hunt to go into the locker-room at halftime up 37-33.
“We made a couple of shots there during their big run before halftime, so it didn’t really reflect just how poorly we took care of the ball there,” said Lee.
Willie Williams III who led all scorers with 20-points and 13 rebounds recorded the first field goal of the second half, and a subsequent lay-up from Gerald McClease tied the contest at 37 apiece. But, in a four-minute sequence, Herkimer’s Hunt and Demertrius Mitchell hit four straight three-pointers to reclaim a comfortable lead.
“Those were deadly daggers. That’s where we really got into real trouble,” said DeVantier.
Sullivan remained pesky, closing the deficit to within three on several occasions, but it wasn’t meant to be for DeVantier and his Generals.
“I’ll tell you, Willie Williams was just the man in the second half,” said Lee. “We had no answers for him, but luckily we made some free throws there, and we didn’t turn the ball over nearly as much as we did in the first half.
“Our game-plan tonight was to make them score five on five and to rebound defensively. We thought our half-court zone was good enough to contain them and to force difficult shots that they’re not used to making. We also rebounded very well.”
Jerome Floyd, who led Herkimer with 19 points on 4-11 shooting (11-14 from the stripe) said, “I just wanted to do whatever I could to get us through this tough first round game here and into the second round. I just wanted to play hard; play smart and play tough.
“That’s what coach preached the whole game that and defense. Plus I made my free-throws. We’re looking to take the whole thing, we want that national championship ring for the college and then we can celebrate.”
Unfortunately for Floyd and Herkimer, they lost their semifinal game 72-69 to eventual champion Brookedale (N.J) Community College. The Generals did take the third place consolation game with a 10-point victory over MassBay College.
The SUNY Sullivan Generals shot a far more respectable 53 percent from the field in their consolation victory over Rochester (Minn.). Williams III had a monster game scoring 30-points on 14-22 shooting and pulling down 14 rebounds.
Herkimer (79) Davis 2, Hunt 14, Floyd 19, Jefferson 10, Thomas 2, Feiler 17, Mitchell 15.
FG: 23-36 (50%)
3FG: 6-16 (38%)
FT: 27-40 (68%)
Sullivan (72) Eastwood 4, Jones 5, Williams III 20, Croft 14, Henderson 12, Dansoko 1, McClease 4, Gattling 12.
FG: 22-73 (30%)
3FG: 5-28 (18%)
FT: 23-31 (74%)