Their assistant coach was already doused in a Gatorade bath. But Erie CC players weren't done yet. As the yellow liquid spread all over the court, another pair of ECC teammates raced over to the Monroe CC bench to steal their Gatorade jug.
And just when they were about to shower their head coach Alex Nwora — and an administrator about to announce awards stopped them.
“No, no, no!” he yelled.
Good call. There’s still work left. But in defeating Monroe Community College, 75-68, Sunday at the Flickinger Center, Nwora and the Kats (26-2) earned a bid to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament.
Monroe CC — much like Niagara County CC one day prior — was a formidable foe. ECC’s sizeable lead was sliced to 66-60 on a Quasim Pugh runner with 3:16 to go. ECC pulled ahead again. Then, with 1:38 left, a tough bucket in traffic cut the Kats’ lead to 70-64. All game, Monroe CC effectively neutralized God’s Gift Achiuwa. The Division I-bound man-child was only 3 of 13 from the field and clearly out of sync on offense.
But through it all, ECC’s supporting cast stepped up. Five-foot-8 (that’s generous) guard Brandon Emmitt single-handedly combated defensive pressure en route to 16 points and zero turnovers. Dequan Jones had 15 points, nine boards and several gut-check free throws down the stretch.
And the Kats as a whole were 22 of 30 from the line — the obvious difference from their lost to this same team just a year ago. Last season, poor free-throw shooting doomed them in a 94-88 season-ending loss to Monroe CC. Lesson learned.
“Last year, we didn’t make free throws against them and it cost us,” said ECC’s Tyshawn Edwards, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds. “We’ve been shooting 80 percent as a team this year and had to zero in today.”
Edwards (Grover Cleveland) has been the robin to Achiuwa’s batman all season. The duo combines to average 43 points per game, and regular Sportscenter-worthy dunks. On this day, though, others needed to step up. Often banished to the corner during offensive possessions — engulfed in a double-team sandwich — Achiuwa was powerless.
To do damage in the national tournament, outside contributions must continue. Edwards, sporting a "716" tattoo on his neck, repeated that the Kats' depth will be crucial.
“Coming into the game, we knew they’d double down on Gift,” said Edwards, who is getting Division I looks from Hofstra, Stony Brook and Niagara amongst others. “We had to step up as a team.”
Next up, nationals. It all begins March 16 in Danville, Ill.
taggedCollege basketball | Erie Community College