NCCC basketball teams capture Region III crowns

The Thunderwolves shared a championship moment dancing on their home hardwood with matching nylon neckwear.

Niagara County Community College’s triumphant basketball teams cut down the nets at both ends of the Thunderwolvarena on Saturday after sweeping Jamestown CC in a Region III championship double feature.

The NCCC women claimed their third straight regional title with a 99-71 defeat of the Jayhawks, furthering the best run in school history under coach Nate Beutel. With their 99-57 victory against JCC, coach Bill Beilein’s men’s team won the region for the second time in five years and sixth in history.

Capping a championship week that also included the Thunderwolves winning their 24th regional title in wrestling, NCCC’s basketball teams advance to next week’s district playoff where they can qualify for the NJCAA Division II tournament.

“To do it here is a great feeling, and it’s a little bit overwhelming,” Beilein said while his players took turns dancing on the Thunderwolves logo at midcourt and broadcasting their celebratory steps to social media.

“These guys had to go through so many obstacles and face so much adversity this year,” Beilein said. “I’m just really proud of them for sticking together and putting up with me. It was a grind mentally.”

In a season shaped by the coronavirus pandemic, NCCC began basketball practices in September but did not play a game until the end of February. Positive tests paused both programs during preseason, and for the women’s team, over a third of the monthlong, fast-breaking schedule.

NCCC and JCC were the only teams in Region III to play basketball this season. Beilein praised the college’s administration and athletics director Amanda Haseley for giving the Thunderwolves the opportunity to compete for a championship.

“Those are the people that allowed us to be the student-athletes and employees that we wanted to be,” Beilein said. “To have the heartbeat of Region III going here is a great feeling.”

Each NCCC team went 3-1 in regular season games against JCC to earn home-court advantage for the regional championship. Hosting both regional championships for the first time, NCCC accomplished another program first in claiming the men’s and women’s titles in the same season.

“Our programs are very tight,” said Beutel, dripping wet from the water-bottle shower his players sprung during the postgame celebration. “Coach Beilein and myself have been friends for a long time and we believe a lot of the same things. To see our programs continue to develop and be successful is special.

“And the other cool thing is that we are both Niagara County people, through and through. So we do it for this area and this region. And we are proud of our kids.”

Alaina Forbes, the Region III Player of the Year, scored 22 points with eight rebounds, six assists and four steals to lead the NCCC women (8-4) in their sixth straight win Sunday. Taylor Lockwood tallied 17 points and seven rebounds, Gabbie McDuffie added 15 points and five steals, Kiya Marquez scored 13, and Aichatta Ballo dished eight assists while leading the defensive effort with five steals.

NCCC broke open a tight contest with a 15-3 run that made it 43-32 at halftime and ballooned its lead to 76-49 with a dominant performance in the third quarter.

“We came out in that third quarter with our foot on the gas,” Beutel said, “and we didn’t hit the brakes at all.”

The NCCC men (10-3) also went on a big run (19-2) late in the first half to turn a back-and-forth battle into a blowout. After trading the lead for the first nine minutes, the Thunderwolves built their advantage to 49-29 by halftime.

“We started getting stops and playing a little more in transition,” said Beilein, who praised assistant coach Kareem Brown for “preaching to them about their defensive intensity” throughout the Thunderwolves’ strong second half, during which they held JCC under 25% shooting.

Justin Hendrick led NCCC with 18 points and three assists, most of which coming during the deciding run late in the first half, while Kailee White, the Region III Player of the Year, had 17 points and six assists. Adam Hoessini added 15 points and seven rebounds, Allen Fordham contributed 13 points and Lamar Lovelace chipped in 11.

“The key to our success has been chemistry,” Beilein said. “Getting to know each other, having empathy for each other, and just battling every day to make ourselves better.”

"We just want to keep on playing," Beutel said. "We have improved as this season has gone along and we are trending in a positive direction moving into the next round of the postseason. We've been working hard for seven months and it's exciting to see these kids have more opportunities to play and be around each other."

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