NORTH EAST— The Cecil College men's basketball team's pressure defense faced a challenge in the semifinals of the NJCAA Division II Region XX Tournament: The Community College of Beaver College (Penn.), and an offense that entered averaging over 100 points a contest.
The sixth-seeded Seahawks proved that they were up to the challenge as they held the second-seeded Titans to 30 percent shooting in a 64-57 victory Saturday to advance to the finals of the regional tournament.
“It’s about ball pressure. It’s about staying in front. We got to an auspicious, very slow start. It’s about ball-pressure. That team averages about 103 points a game. We played them last week at their place and gave up 72 to beat them,” Cecil College head coach Ed Durham said. “We gave up 57. I wouldn’t say we played well offensively, but we did enough.”
The Seahawks held Beaver County to a season-low in points thanks to a defense that consistently challenged every shot.
“It was the same thing as (Friday) night. We contested shots, played pressure defense and picking them up full-court, gaining rebounds,” said Cecil College freshman guard Jake Falko.
Falko was referring to the Seahawks’ 84-55 quarterfinal victory over third-seeded Garrett College the day before that allowed them to reach the semifinals. In that contest, they held the Lakers to 32 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers.
Cecil needed that strong defensive outing against the Titans as it struggled from the floor, making just 17 of 49 shots for a 34.7 percentage. But its best offensive stretch proved to be the turning point of the game.
Trailing Beaver County 30-27 early in the second half, the Seahawks went on a 15-3 run to take the lead for good, 42-33, with 10:57 left to go in the game.
While the Titans threatened for the remainder of the contest, the Seahawks kept their lead down the stretch by making 12 of 16 free throws.
“You have to make free throws to close the game out. We do something called ‘Win the game’ every day before the game, where everybody has to make two free throws,” Durham said. “It’s one point for a make. If we miss, that’s two. That’s how we’re going to win. We have to make our free throws.”
Falco, the former two-time All-County Player of the Year (Tri-State Christian), led Cecil College in scoring during Saturday’s victory with 26, including making 11 of 13 from the foul line. Cornell Corbin also went 11-13 from the charity stripe en route to a 17 points, while Hassan Corbin chipped in 12.
With the win, the Seahawks are one win away from winning the regional championship and earning a berth in the NJCAA Division II National Tournament. To get there, however, they have to get by top-seeded Potomac State College of West Virginia.
“I just want to get that win and get to Illinois for the national championship," Falco said. "We’ve lost in the finals four years in a row, so we have to turn it around tomorrow."