Niagara Gazette — williamsville — The Niagara County Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams looked to have the upper hand on rival Eric Community College for 2013-14 following a home sweep on Feb. 4.
The Kats returned the favor in a big way Tuesday night, taking advantage of sloppy nights from both NCCC teams and evening the season series in each program’s second-to-last games of the regular season.
The NCCC women opened the night with a 59-54 loss that severely hurt their chances of hosting the NJCAA Region III tournament.
The teams played close the entire game. NCCC trailed 29-27 at half and the final score represented the largest lead either team had in the second half.
NCCC (24-4) led 52-50 with 2:11 left after Jaclyn Welch finished a put-back of her own rebound, but ECC (13-12) tied the game on the next possession on a pair of free throws.
The Thunderwolves had an opportunity to stay in control, but Kristine Ripson (Lewiston-Porter) missed a pair of free throws giving ECC possession. ECC’s Crystal Marion hit a mid-range jumper to take a 54-52 lead.
The Kats looked like they’d have a chance to pull ahead following a Welch miss, but a travel gave the ball back to NCCC. A well-executed inbounds play gave Ripson a clean look inside that she finished to tie it up with 57.4 seconds left.
The Kats’ Aaliyah Dunbar drove right on the next possession, drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to take a 56-54 lead.
NCCC took over with 35 seconds left, and point guard Jesse DeWaters (Royalton-Hartland) called a play out of a timeout. Ripson ran up from the post and took the ball, then looked for forward Alba Perez (Medina), who was cutting to the rim.
Ripson’s pass was tipped and ECC’s Jazzae Verse came up with it. She was fouled with 11.2 seconds left and knocked down her first free throw. She missed her second, giving NCCC a chance, but Dunbar came up with the rebound. She was fouled and knocked down both free throws to seal the win.
“It was a comedy of errors,” NCCC coach Nate Beutel said. “We turned the ball over way too much, missed too many layups, missed too many free throws, and all that added up to kind of a lackluster night.”
NCCC shot an abysmal 3 for 13 from the charity stripe compared to 12 for 18 for the Kats.
Ripson led the Thunderwolves with a huge effort, finishing with 24 points and 17 rebounds, but Beutel said she was dwelling on the missed opportunities after the game.
“She’s was upset (about the missed free throws),” he said. “I thought she had a great game, but unfortunately didn’t get a lot of help from the supporting cast.”
NCCC is now a game behind Jamestown Community College in Region III. The teams face off Thursday, but NCCC would still need help in tiebreakers to surpass the Jayhawks for first place and the right to host the regional tournament.
The NCCC men seemed eager to out-do the women’s sloppiness, committing an uncharacteristic 23 turnovers — leading to 40 ECC points — in an 86-67 loss.
The Thunderwolves (21-6) trailed 35-32 after a 13-turnover first half, staying in the game by going 9 for 11 from the free throw line. But that changed in the second half, when the Kats (16-9) kept forcing turnovers but managed to even things out at the line.
“Our first half was pretty good, but the mistakes that we made, we continued to make them for 40 minutes,” said NCCC coach Bill Beilein.
ECC’s aggressive defense kept the normally sweet-passing Thunderwolves off balance all night. And when NCCC turned the ball over, ECC’s athletes had little problem finishing in transition. The Kats had six dunks on the night, the most vicious coming from guard Dashawn King — including two one-handers on back-to-back possessions and a huge windmill in transition in the second half.
A late 7-0 ECC run put the game away, but Beilein seemed to want to get in on the high-flying action. He called timeout with 30 seconds left and drew up a pretty half-court alley-oop for guard Chuka Ikpeze, who threw down a two-hander off a nice pass from Chiedozie Udezeh.
NCCC was without point guard Sheldon Zablotny, who is day-to-day with an ankle injury. Beilein has raved about his steadying play at times this season but insisted that his absence wasn’t the reason for the loss.
“We have such a next-man-up mentality this year,” he said. “Our guys just have to be able to take care of the ball.”
The Thunderwolves wrap up the regular season Thursday against JCC. The women tip off at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.