By Doug Smith
Niagara Gazette — SANBORN – Niagara Community College basketball hits the road to Rochester after wearing out the passing lanes at home Tuesday night.
Against a somewhat short-handed Jamestown team with no concept of the word “quit,” coach Bill Beilein’s Thunderwolves dealt the ball like casino pitmen for an 87-68 victory before about 200 onlookers. The Jayhawks led only twice; each time, the Thunderwolves refocused.
“We’re learning how to share the ball,” Beilein said after his team’s 21st victory in 29 starts. Up next: arch rival Erie Community College in the regional semi-finals in Rochester, 3 p.m., Saturday. It sounds like a tough way to start, but Beilein sounded as if he didn’t mind if it were Indiana or Duke.
“We’re just happy that we’re in the Final Four,” he said. “It hasn’t been that way for a long time.”
Of the ‘Wolves’ 37 field goals, 25 had assists. Under hockey rules, many would have had two. A couple of them came back-to-back after Jamestown had narrowed the lead to five about four minutes before intermission. Isaiah Johnson dealt to Victor Verdecia who fed Jordan Street; a minute later it was Verdecia to Jon Marsh to Jacob Hughes.
Then, in a 17-second span, Johnson nailed an elbow three, ripped the ball away from a Jamestown wingman and scored again to make it 47-32.
Street scored 30 points, missing only two field goal attempts (14-16), and corralled nine rebounds. Johnson scored 17. Verdecia had 11 points and nine assists. It seemed like more.
“He was seeing the floor really well,” Beilein said. “A lot of his assists came off head fakes.” The multiply-assisted baskets, he said, “We call our swing-swing offense.” A pause. “We learned it from Matty,” he joked.
With 59 percent field goal shooting and a 41-26 rebound edge, N-Trip survived a monster game by Jamestown’s Tyree Jewell, who scored 36 points, took down eight rebounds and dealt three assists. He had four threes, many from impossible angles.
“He just had a tremendous game,” Beilein said.
Jamestown Coach Mike Cordovano seconded the motion.
“We’ve got some players hurt, maybe that mattered, maybe it didn’t,” he said. “But Jewell just stepped up. He’s a freshman, a good student. He’ll be one of our best ever.”
But on this night, the sum of Niagara’s parts submerged the spectacular individual.
“We’re learning to trust each other,” Beilein said. “That’s what we been preachin’.”