By Joe Manganiello
ROCHESTER, NY — With the Tribunes appearing in seven of the last eight Region III, Division II championship games, it was going to be difficult for Mercyhurst North East to deny Monroe Community College yet another berth to the big game.
The Tribunes defeated Mercyhurst North East, 105-91. Arnold Fripp, Jr. (Brooklyn, NY/Brooklyn Collegiate) led Monroe with 22 points and finished 8-8 from the foul line. Jahvari Josiah (Brooklyn, NY/Beach Channel) added 19 points and five rebounds. Tashawn Desir (Brooklyn, NY/Nia Prep) collected nine assists and four rebounds with his eight points.
Second Team All-Region selection Ta-Quan Zimmerman (Waterbury, CT/Holy Cross) finished with seven points, five assists and a game-high 11 rebounds.
The victory places Monroe in the Region III Division II championship game, which will also be played on Monroe’s home court.
“It’s a great feeling,” Zimmerman said. “It is our advantage: our court, our fans, our rim. Now we have to take advantage of our opportunities.”
“Any win at this time of year is a good win,” head coach Jerry Burns said. “Now we just have to focus in on tomorrow.”
Desir, who started at point guard for the Tribunes, caught the game’s opening tip, approached the three-point line and fired to give his team an early 3-0 lead. The following possession, Desir assisted to Fripp, Jr. to make it a 5-0 game. Mercyhurst North East would claw back and then some early on, taking a 14-9 lead at the 15:31 mark. The 14-4 run was prompted by four points from Shaquille Ford and an And-1 by Soutiri Sapnas.
The lead was traded back and forth for the majority of the first half. Monroe used three Josiah 3-pointers to stay afloat against the fast-paced, dish-and-drive game of Sapnas and Je’Land Head.
Monroe took a 46-38 lead into the half. Josiah paced the Tribunes with 15 points. Zimmerman collected eight rebounds to go along with six points and three assists. Fripp Jr. scored 12 points on 4-5 shooting from the field.
“We knew we had to come out strong, with poise, and come out and execute. At practice, we play like it is our last. So when we step on the court, we try to play like it is our last,” Joseph said.
Monroe took control of the game with a 15-2 run to open the second half, putting them ahead 61-40. During the run, Zimmerman dove for a loose ball and found himself with possession of the basketball from a seated position. Thinking on his feet, Zimmerman and his teammate Rueben Berry (Bronx, NY/Danbury) made an excellent play.
“I was hustling,” Zimmerman said. “I was actually going to call a timeout. But I saw (Berry) underneath the basket and made the pass. He finished it. That gave us a lot of momentum.”
Once the Tribunes took the commanding lead, Burns reminded his players every trip down the floor to make “five or six” passes. Patience and efficiency with the basketball led to a fantastic shooting performance from the team, who finished shooting 50 percent from the floor and 45.8 percent from three-point land.
“That’s part of our game. Dribble penetrating and kicking,” Burns said. “We try to spread the other team out on the floor and get open shots. Fortunately, we made some of them tonight.”
“We have a lot of scorers,” Josiah said. “If one of us is down, somebody picks him up. Every one in the lineup can play defense and we all talk out there.”
On the other side, Mercyhurst struggled from the perimeter. A team that averages 89 points per game largely because of the 3-point shot finished just 4-22 from behind the arc in the biggest game of their season.
“I thought they were going to come out shooting,” Josiah said. “Last game we played them they came out hot. But our defense put the pressure on them. Coach (Burns) has drilled that into us.”
“I always knew they were a scary team,” Burns said. “I was most concerned with them making shots. We needed to make they sure they didn’t get any easy shots. They can fill it up.”
The Tribunes dominated the glass, taking the 49-37 edge for the game. Rebounding has long been a point of emphasis for Monroe.
“That was big,” Zimmerman said. “Rebounding is the key. We are a run and gun team, so if we can hit the glass, that’s real big. That’s a bonus.”
“A lot of those guys mixed it up for us tonight,” Burns said. “This time of year, it is all about giving maximum effort.”
Burns singled out the play of Berry.
“Rueben did a fabulous job rebounding the basketball for us,” Burns said. “It is good to finally see him being the force we know he can be.”
Berry finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and two steals. He and Fripp Jr. led both sides with three blocks a piece. Berry had a show-stopping block with 4:59 left in the second-half that was thumped against the wall beyond the baseline.
Malcolm McNair (Jacksonville, FL/Samuel L. Wolfson) scored 10 points with two 3-pointers, dished five assists and also had three rebounds.
Dallas Gary (Buffalo, NY/East) scored nine points on 4-8 shooting, and also grabbed three rebounds. Gary slammed home a monster dunk off an alley-oop from Desir late in the second half, which put the Tribunes up 87-70.
Third Team All-Region selection Greg Williams (Cincinnati, OH/Princeton) scored 13 points with three 3-pointers and a pair of rebounds.
Mercyhurst North East was led by Sapnas, who scored 22 points and had six assists. Head scored 15 points and led the team with five rebounds.
As Monroe awaits tip-off on Sunday, the players are in agreement that keeping focused is the best course of action.
“We just got to get back to focus and take care of the next game,” Zimmerman said. “This game is over. We just got to get back to business.”
“Anyone that comes in here knows they are a going to get a good game (from us.) We ain’t expecting nobody to come in here and lay down,” Joseph said.
Monroe will host Erie Community College on Sunday, March 3 at 1 p.m. Erie Community College defeated Niagara County Community College on Saturday, 97-94.