The CCRI men’s basketball team had a solid gameplan in place for Saturday’s District 2 championship game at No. 3 Monroe Community College.
The Knights wanted to control the tempo and limit the sharp-shooting Tribunes from behind the three-point line. For nearly three-quarters of the game, CCRI did just that.
But over the final 10 minutes or so, it came undone. The Tribunes caught fire from behind the arc and made threes on four of five possessions in the middle of the second half. That sent CCRI reeling and eventually home with an 85-78 loss.
With the win, Monroe advanced to the NJCAA D-II national tournament, which begins on March 20 in Danville, Ill. CCRI – the defending national runner-up – came up just short of getting back to the big dance.
“The last 10 minutes, as a good team will, they’re going to have a big run,” CCRI head coach Rick Harris said. “And that’s what happened. It was a 12-2 run to go up by nine, and now we had to get out of that zone and play some man-to-man, and they are quick as well. Quick and athletic. We had trouble with that.”
The Knights, who ended the season with a No. 20 ranking and a 20-12 record, did a lot of things well. They forced Monroe – which is unbeaten at home this season and has a 29-3 record – into 23 turnovers, and CCRI only trailed 34-31 at halftime. With 13:24 to play, the Knights held a 48-45 lead and were frustrating the Monroe shooters.
In its previous game, Monroe had made 16 three-pointers and scored 98 against Erie. CCRI was holding the Tribunes in check.
“We played a good half, controlling the tempo,” Harris said. “I told the kids, we had to keep this game in the 70’s.”
But Monroe finally started to connect.
The Tribunes hit four threes to spark a 12-2 run. Jonathan Velez-Rivera, the team’s best three-point shooter, only made one three during the game, but others picked up the slack. They hit 13 threes over the course of the game.
Just like that, Monroe jumped in front 64-54 with 10:20 to play.
“If it’s not one, it’s another,” Harris said.
CCRI hung tough, battling back to 70-67 with 5:25 to play, but another Monroe surge – this one an 11-0 run – finished off the Knights.
Monroe hit its foul shots down the stretch to ice the game.
“The bottom line is that it’s very difficult to go on the road and play a 28-3 team that was undefeated at home and come away with a win,” Harris said. “They were a very good team. We did a great job.”
CCRI was led on the scoreboard by sophomore Desmond Williams, playing in his final game as a Knight. He finished with 27 points, 23 of which came in the second half. He ends his career as the No. 4 all-time scorer in school history with 1,332 points.
Fellow sophomore Isaac Medeiros also had a big game, scoring 17 points with 15 rebounds, while sophomore Bryan Yarce scored six points and dished out nine assists. Freshman Jerome Harris had 12 points.
“I was very proud of the kids,” Harris said. “Like I told the kids, unfortunately in sports, every team loses their last game other then the team that wins the national championship, or the state championship. I was very pleased. They have nothing to hang their heads about.”
The season was another successful one for the Knights, who managed to win 20 games despite playing one of the hardest schedules in the country.
“I couldn’t ask for more from these guys,” Harris said. “I dare anyone to find a team that played a tougher schedule than us. We played 7 Division I teams. We played Notre Dame Prep. Army Prep, who was very strong this year. Navy Prep. We took everyone’s best shot. Everyone gave us their best game.”
And CCRI’s sophomore class of Williams, Medeiros, Yarce, Steve Bevilacqua and Rob Alers were part of one of the most successful two-year stretches in team history.
The Knights were ranked nationally throughout the two years, and they won two region championships. They also captured a district title and made a run to the national finals last season.
“They’ll go down in CCRI tradition as teams we talk about,” Harris said. “They won over 50 games. They won two region championships, a national finals appearance. They were ranked both years. They’re a special group. I couldn’t ask for more. It was really another great year.