Niagara Gazette — SANBORN — The Niagara County Community College men’s basketball team’s dream start to the season hit a roadblock by mid-February and it never really recovered.
A 19-1 beginning and national ranking had the Thunderwolves thinking higher than any of the school’s past squads, and that was winning the NJCAA Region III tournament. They looked poised and able to accomplish as much and that was winning the NJCAA Region III tournament for the first time since 1979.
But once the first conference loss came — an 87-76 defeat at Monroe Jan. 25 — things unraveled. NCCC staggered to the finish line, winning three of its final seven games. It still earned fourth seed in the region.
And on Tuesday night, the aspirations of winning regionals, however deviated by that 3-5 stretch, expired. The Thunderwolves hosted No. 5 seed Mercyhurst North East in a sub-regional game for the right to travel to Monroe Community College for the region’s final four this weekend and lost, 100-77.
The shadow of some missed opportunity hovers over plenty of positives from the year.
“Just what it looks on record,” NCCC coach Bill Beilein said of how he assesses the season. “It was so great all the way basically up to February. And when it started to go bad you have to learn how to control it better so it doesn’t get away from you. That’s kind of what happened this season.”
Even with the blowout loss that didn’t really get away from the Thunderwolves until the closing minutes, the direction of the program is promising. It’s just the second time in Beilein’s five-year tenure Niagara has been trounced before the Region III tournament.
NCCC hadn’t reached regionals in the eight years prior to Beilein taking over. Each year under Beilein the team has improved in the win column, culminating to it finishing 22-7, 6-5 Western New York Athletic Conference in 2013-14.