New Rochelle, NY—March Madness has begun. Monroe College hosted the Region XV tournament of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at its home venue, the Monroe Athletic Complex (MAC). Hoops fans were treated to 16 games in the three days in which 18 teams from local colleges competed for the opportunity to move to the next higher level of competition and a possible national championship.
Bronx Community College (27-5), the 9th ranked team in Division 3 of the NJCAA won three contests in three days to capture the Region XV title. The three victories raised the team’s record to 16 wins in the last 17 games. On Friday, BCC defeated Rockland CC, 100-78 in the quarter-finals. On the following day, Ulster CC fell to BCC, 78-62 in the semi-final round. Nassau CC, which edged the #1 seed, Sullivan CC, by a single point, 70-69, in the semi on Saturday, was the third tournament victim of BCC in the final, 95-68.
Three 6-5 freshmen contributed mightily to the success of coach Shannon McKinnon’s squad during the tournament. In the three contests, Claude Blue scored 62 points and grabbed 34 boards. He also blocked eight shots. Ronnell Ross netted 53 points and hauled down 25 rebounds. Enson Garcia scored 37 and had 26 rebounds. During the regular season, the three frosh and two other players averaged in double figures in scoring.
The Region XV championship was not the only title garnered by the Broncos this year. BCC edged Hostos CC, 62-59, IN February to capture the CUNYAC/Con Edison Community College championship. Blue was the MVP of the tourney after scoring 23 grabbing a record 19 rebounds in the final. McKinnon said of him, “Claude blue is the most dominant player in the conference.”
BCC was also declared District 5 champ and automatically qualifies for the NJCAA Division 3 National Tournament.
The Monroe Mustangs (29-3) easily defeated Westchester CC, 71-47, in the semi on Saturday despite some unaccustomed sloppiness in their play. Interestingly, the 24 point differential was the same as in the final contest, 82-58, of the regular season played between the two teams on February 25.
The hard fought come-from-behind victory over Harcum, 80-70, in the final displayed the heart and determination of the players and the wisdom of the coaching staff. The game was very competitively played throughout the first half. The score was tied six times and neither team led by four points. The teams went to their locker rooms with Monroe leading, 40-36, at the half.
Two extended scoring runs, one by each squad, first turned the game in one direction and then in the opposite. Extremely effective shooting from beyond the arc by Harcum led the visitors on a 21-6 run, which gave them their biggest lead of the contest, 57-50, Harcum, which had lost both regular seasons games to the Mustangs kept alive by netting 13 3-pointers during the contest..
A time out by Monroe stopped the Harcum momentum. Coach Jeff Brustad’s advice and his team’s fire drove the mustangs to dominate the remainder of the contest. Monroe netted 30 points to Harcum’s 13 to produce a double digit victory and Monroe’s fourth consecutive Region XV crown.
Brustad spoke of the exciting finish that electrified the pro-Mustangs crowd in the arena, “This is the kind of win you draw on when things get tough later in the playoffs. We were down, we had out superstar [Orlando Sanchez] in deep foul trouble, and every guy on our team decided he was going to contribute to help us reach our goal. We dug deep, we won, and now we try and advance next week against another quality team.”
Five of the Mustangs scored in double figures in the final, led by Maurice Ndour with 20. That scoring by Monroe was balanced and there were many contributors were not surprises. All fiv starters were named to the Region XV All-Star team. Guards Davon Marshall and Drimir Ferguson were named to the First Team. Front court standouts Orlando Sanchez and Maurice Ndour were chosen for the Second Team. Swingman Marco Bourgalt was named Honorable Mention. After their selection, Brustad spoke of the team concept he emphasizes, “More than on any other team I’ve coached, this is a cohesive group that plans to succeed as a group.”
The Monroe women (25-6), currently ranked 10th nationally in D.3 of the NJCAA, are looking to successfully defend their national championship. The #1 seed of the tournament routed Orange CC in the semi, 109-35, on Saturday. The Mustangs shot an astronomical 64% while holding Orange to a meager 22 % from the floor. Monroe shooters netted 54% from beyond the arc. The outcome of the one-sided game was decided early as Monroe scored the first 17 points.
Five Monroe players scored in double digits. The scoring was led by guards Kashay Barnes and Lynasha Frazier with 22 each. Jasmine McCoy followed with 21. Coach James Robinson, Jr. was able to give each player sufficient rest for the game on Sunday. No one was on the court for more than 30 minutes.
Neither the rest nor the one-sided win on Saturday was sufficient to earn the Mustangs the win and the title on Sunday over Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI), a team they defeated twice during the regular season. The score remained close, with Monroe usually in from until a 12-2 scoring run by CCRI gave them a 5-45 advantage with 11:47 left in the game. Monroe did not give up as they tied the game for a final time at 58 with 1:11 remaining. CCRI scored seven of the final nine points to earn a 65-60 win.
The loss by Monroe ended an eight year streak of Region XV titles, but both teams will advance to the District tourney to be played at the MAC next week.
All three teams will try to keep Bronx representatives alive throughout the month of basketball madness.