By Jonah Bronstein
Niagara Gazette — New to the Niagara County Community College gymnasium this year — shiny bench chairs emblazoned with the Thunderwolves logo, and a dedicated student cheering section, the howling Wolf Pack.
In Tuesday night’s home opener, all 14 NCCC men’s basketball players got up off the new bench and into the game, and the student fans had plenty of reason to get out of their seats and cheer during a 69-43 win over Finger Lakes CC.
“It was fun,” said sophomore guard Isaiah Johnson, who led the Thunderwolves with 29 points and 11 rebounds. “That’s something we didn’t have before. They kept us motivated and kept us in the game.”
Johnson scored 22 of his points on just eight field goal attempts in the second half, as NCCC (2-1) broke open a game that was close throughout a sloppy first 20 minutes.
“My teammates got me open and I capitalized on it,” said Johnson, who was 9 of 11 from the floor during the game and 5 of 7 from 3-point range.
“We had no rhythm in the first half,” coach Bill Beilein said. “We said at halftime that we needed to get more shots in the rhythm of our offense, and we were able to do that.”
NCCC opened up a 12-0 lead to start the game, holding the Lakers scoreless for nine minutes, but quickly saw their lead slip down to 16-15. They closed the half with another strong spurt and went into the break up 29-20.
“As the season goes along, you get longer stretches of good minutes. In our third game, you just get flashes of that,” Beilein said. “The first five minutes of the first half were good, the last five minutes were good, and the 10 minutes in between were just horrible basketball.”
NCCC won going away despite the fact that it shot just 39.7 percent and turned the ball over 23 times. It helped that they forced 26 turnovers and forced Finger Lakes to shoot just 30.8 percent. The Thunderwolves also had 17 offensive rebounds.
Jon Marsh added 12 points for NCCC and Ethan Baker (Wilson) had nine points (all from beyond the arc) and seven rebounds.
“He’s kind of our bailout guy and he’s still not getting as many shots as he should be,” Beilein said. “But he hit a couple 3s, they had to guard him, and Zig was able to hit the holes.”
• The NCCC women’s team opened up its first season under new coach Nate Beutel against a Finger Lakes squad that already had three games under its belt, and lost 68-56.
“We had a few first-game jitters that translated into too many turnovers and too many ill-advised fouls,” Beutel said.
The Thunderwolves turned the ball over on 25 possessions and put the Lakers on the line 22 times.
“Those two stats were the difference in the game,” Beutel said.
Jessica Curry (Wilson) had 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to lead NCCC, showing little rust after sitting out all of last season and missing most of her freshman season at Geneseo due to injuries and illness.
Curry netted 17 of her points and dished three assists in the second half. She scored five in a row to get the lead to nine points with four minutes left, but a deep end-of-the-shot-clock 3-pointer from Finger Lakes’ Brittany Monpere (21 points) put the game out of reach.
“In the second half, Jessica Curry played the way she is capable of playing,” Beutel said. “And she is going to need to be that assertive for us all season long.”