The CCRI men’s basketball team is no stranger to big games, having advanced all the way to the NJCAA Division II National Championship game a year ago, and the Knights faced one of their bigger ones on Saturday.
Facing No. 18 ranked Dean College on the road in the Region XXI Division II Championship Game, CCRI came through when it mattered most. It used to a huge first half to knock out the Bulldogs 68-53 and capture its fifth region championship in the past seven seasons.
Dean fell to 17-6 while CCRI improved to 20-11 on the season.
"Today we followed the game plan and played our best defensive game of the season,” CCRI head coach Rick Harris said. “Two weeks ago we let Dean score 82 points against us in an 82-70 defeat. Today our guys were locked-in on the defensive end. Giving up just 53 points today is a testament to our guys’ commitment to defending the opponent. This is what gave us a chance to win this championship and I could not be prouder of them."
Dean hosted the game due to its 3-1 conference record, while CCRI was 2-2, but the Knights were the more dominant team from start-to-finish on Saturday.
CCRI trailed just once, as Dean opened the game with a three-point shot to go up 3-0. The Knights responded by pounding the ball inside throughout the first half, taking advantage of their superior size advantage. This strategy led to a 41-17 CCRI lead at the half.
Sophomore point guard Bryan Yarce led the way in the first half, scoring 10 of his game-high 17, while center Pat Marchand scored 10 of his 12 points.
Dean came out hot in the second half, using full court pressure to trim the deficit, but the Bulldogs never got the CCRI lead to less than 12 points. CCRI continued to patiently work the ball inside but also received solid perimeter play from guards Desmond Williams, Steve Bevilacqua, Chris Light and Yarce.
Yarce was the game's high-scorer with those 17 points and he also delivered eight assists and two steals. CCRI’s front court got a big boost from 6-foot-8 Elijah Okagbare, who altered numerous Dean shots and chipped in with four points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Williams was under pressure all day from Dean, but still finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots of his own.
With the victory, the Knights advance to the District 2 Men’s Basketball Championship to be played at and versus No. 5 Monroe College from Rochester, N.Y. this Saturday. The time for the game is still to be determined.
A win in that game will stamp a ticket to the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball National Tournament in Danville, Ill. that runs from March 19-23.