The Rochester Community and Technical College men's basketball team hasn't gotten into much of a flow this season and sometimes the rust shows.
Due to the late start to the season, plus having to take some time off due to COVID-19, the Yellowjackets played just their fourth game of the season on Sunday. And while they had some decent spurts, the host Yellowjackets were unable to make the key plays down the stretch and rival Riverland Community College came away with a narrow 71-70 victory.
“When we play against these guys it’s always like this,” Riverland coach Derek Hahn said. “It’s always close and down to the wire.”
RCTC was trailing by a single point when it got the ball back with 6.9 seconds left after Riverland missed a pair of free throws. The Yellowjackets moved the ball into the front court but then had a turnover without getting a shot off.
“We were trying to get a 3-on-2 (break), but just made a wrong read,” RCTC coach Brian LaPlante said. “But in fairness to the kid, it’s not something we’ve worked on a lot. That’s part of growth."
It was the third turnover in the final minute of play for the Yellowjackets.
“We’re only four games in and have had three COVID pauses,” LaPlante said. “We just haven’t been able to get that consistency.”
Riverland's Lajarrion Sparks snapped a 68-68 tie with a free throw with 1:02 to play. The Blue Devils missed their final five free-throw attempts in the closing minute, but Dominik Bangu put Riverland up 71-68 with a driving hoop with 15 seconds left.
RCTC pulled within one when Deivonte Watts made two free throws with 11.3 seconds left. Then after Riverland missed two foul shots, RCTC committed its 23rd turnover of the game to seal its fate. Riverland had just 13 turnovers and survived despite making just 10 of 25 free throws.
“The biggest thing for us is we have to shoot free throws better,” Hahn said. “But the guys clamped down defensively when they needed to and got some big turnovers because they stayed strong on the defensive end.”
Riverland led 43-37 at the half and built a lead as big as nine points in the second half. RCTC was able to limit the Blue Devils to 28 points over the final 20 minutes of play to get back into the contest.
“I thought the second half we were more connected,” LaPlante said.
Jerome Cunningham had 28 points and 10 rebounds to spark RCTC. The 6-4 forward scored 17 points in the second half and was an inside force as he had a handful of dunks. He also had four assists and three steals.
“That’s what he should do every game,” LaPlante said. “He’s got to do that in night in and night out for us.”
Devyn Frye had 15 points for RCTC and AJ Frazier scored nine off the bench.
Joe Burgos, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Miami had 16 points, all in the first half, to spark the Blue Devils. Burgos has been a reserve, but was in the starting lineup because some Blue Devils had missed practices due to COVID-19 protocol.
"He really played well for us and is an energy guy," Hahn said.
Spinks, a 6-5 freshman from Louisiana, added 14 points while Bangu, a 6-5 guard from Mankato, had a big game off the bench with eight points, six assists, six rebounds and four steals.
“We’re young, we’re learning,” Hahn said. “There were plenty of mistakes at both ends, but it was a good basketball game, competitive.”
The Yellowjackets are now 2-2 while Riverland improves to 7-1.
“It’s good for us,” LaPlante said. “We need to be in wars and we’ll get better from it if we allow ourselves to.”
Riverland 71, RCTC 70
Jamari Magee 7 P, 1 3-PT; Cleveland Bedgood 8 P; Lajarrion Spinks 14 P, 1 3-PT; Joe Burgos 16 P, 6 R; Deng Jal 4 P; Keyshawn Payne 4 P; Derrick Ousley 4 P; Travyon Smith 4 P, 1 3-PT; Ethan Clavero 2 P; Dominik Bangu 8 P, 6 R, 6 A; 4 S.
Keivonte Watts 7 P, 1 3-PT; Devyn Frye 15 P, 1 3-PT, 8 A, 4 R; Elijah Flenorl 4 P; Quentin Williams 4 P; Jerome Cunningham 28 P, 10 R, 4 A, 3 S; Bjorn Knutson 3 P, 1 3-PT; AJ Frazier 9 P, 1 3-PT.
Halftime: RIV 43, RCTC 37.
Free throws: RIV 10-25, RCTC 6-7. Field goals: RIV 29-64, RCTC 30-57.
3-pointers: RIV 3-14, RCTC 4-12. Rebounds: RIV 28, RCTC 25. Turnovers: RIV 13, RCTC 23.