NCCC's Tip-Off Classic underway with women's win

The NCCC Tip-Off Classic got underway Friday night with the Thunderwolves getting back to their winning ways.

In women’s basketball, Niagara County Community College built a big advantage from the jump on its way to beating Howard (Md.), 72-45. The Thunderwolves (2-1) close out the classic at 1 p.m. Sunday against Lackawanna (Pa.), the No. 18-ranked team in NJCAA Division II that ended NCCC’s 2021 spring season in the district title game.

The men’s games tip-off Saturday featuring a matchup of nationally-ranked teams when No. 13 NCCC hosts No. 16 Howard following the 5 p.m. contest between Erie and Howard. The Thunderwolves (1-1) also host Lackawanna at 3 p.m. Sunday, as they enter the weekend looking to rebound from a 72-65 loss at Lakeland (Ohio) on Wednesday.

The NCCC women were coming off a 76-66 setback at Lakeland, the rare early-season loss for a program that compiled a 69-8 record over the past three years.

“It was a great way to rebound from the other night,” coach Nate Beutel said after Friday’s win.

The Thunderwolves were led by All-American Alaina Forbes, who scored 27 points, shooting 9 of 14 overall and 6 of 10 from long range. Forbes also had six of 18 steals for NCCC, which scored 32 points from forcing 31 turnovers.

“She really showed that she is a third-year player in our program,” Beutel said. “She was poised out there and made good decisions. She was in the right place at the right time, and she knocked down her shots.”

NCCC also got productive outings from Ashley Tucker (12 points, seven rebounds, two steals), Gabby McDuffie (10 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals), and Aichata Ballo (seven points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals) in shooting 49% with assists on 21 of 30 field goals, leading to a 42-26 advantage in paint scoring.

“We got off to a real fast start, holding them scoreless for the first six minutes of the game,” Beutel said. “A couple of our defensive looks gave them some issues. It allowed us to get out in transition and get some easy buckets to settle back in.”

The Thunderwolves opened the game on a 10-point run and led 17-4 after the first eight minutes. It was 32-16 at halftime after another 10-point spurt by NCCC. The lead swelled to 24 points early in the third quarter and after Howard got it to 13 late in the third quarter, NCCC put the game away with its third 10-point run.

NCCC held Howard to 31% shooting and gave up a single 3-pointer on 10 attempts. Leading scorer Kori People was limited to four points, 19 below her season average. Howard will play Lackawanna at 3 p.m. Saturday.

“Now we’ve got Lackawanna on Sunday,” Beutel said. “It’s the team that ended our season last year. I don’t know about the girls, but the last thing I remember is oceans of tears in the locker room after that loss. And now we’ve got an opportunity right in front of us to protect our home court against them.”

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