Niagara Gazette — SANBORN — The Niagara County Community College men’s and women’s basketball teams started Western New York Athletic Conference play Thursday night against Genesee Community College, and the results didn’t differ much from the Thunderwolves’ non-conference slates.
The NCCC men, ranked 14th in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II poll, beat no. 18 GCC, 103-87. The women, ranked this week for the first time in program history, topped the Cougars in a blowout of their own, 73-41.
The men’s game figured to be a shootout, featuring the sixth- and eighth-best scoring offenses in Division II. NCCC entered averaging 94.1 points per game, while GCC averaged 92.4.
The Thunderwolves (17-1, 1-0) came out on an 8-0 run, with guard Sheldon Zablotny knocking down a deep 3-pointer to cap it. NCCC’s second unit, featuring guards Davon Robinson, Chuka Ikpeze and forward Eric Hall, came in with some pretty passing, finding teammates for no-look field goals on consecutive possessions.
GCC (15-3, 1-1) closed the gap to 49-45 at half, and pulled within 61-60 with 14:22 left in the second half.
Eli Jones took over for the Thunderwolves, scoring four straight points as part of an 11-0 run that helped retake control of the game.
Jones finished with 36 points and nine rebounds. He was a menace on the offensive glass, grabbing five boards and helping NCCC win the rebounding battle 44-32.
Center Jordan Street (Niagara Falls) had another big game, going 9 for 15 from the field and finishing with 19 points and nine boards. The sophomore has gone 27 for 35 in his last three outings.
Zablotny (17), Gjaimeir Stanford (11), Hall (10) and EJ Sandoval also scored in double figures, and Sandoval had the only double-double of the game, dishing 13 assists. NCCC had 30 assists overall, which coach Bill Beilein said was a record for his tenure with the team.
“We kept telling our guys to not be afraid of making the pass that isn’t the assist pass,” Beilein said. “The next pass can be the assist going to the block. We tried to feed off dominating in the paint.”
The women improved to 19-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play thanks to a strong first half.
The Thunderwolves led 43-23 at the break, thanks to 15 points from Jaclyn Welch and 10 from Jesse DeWaters (Lockport/Royalton-Hartland). DeWaters added eight assists in the first half.
NCCC’s 2-3 zone stifled the Cougars (5-11, 0-2), forcing 35 turnovers. The Thunderwolves only shot 32.1 percent from the field, but attempted 28 more field goals (78-50) than GCC. NCCC also won the rebounding battle, grabbing 52 boards to GCC’s 43. The Cougars entered the game averaging 49.9 rebounds per game, which was sixth in all of Division II.
“The number one key heading in was rebounding,” said head coach Nate Beutel. “We said right from the get-go that we had to control the rebounding on both ends ... and for the most part we did that.”
Welch finished with a game-high in points (26) and team-high in rebounds (nine), while DeWaters finished with a double-double, putting up 16 points and dishing 11 assists.
NCCC hosts another doubleheader Saturday. The women kick things off against Alfred State at 1 p.m., and the men follow at 3 p.m. against Jamestown-Olean CC.
Follow Niagara Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.