AUBURN — It wasn’t until the last three minutes of play before fans had a pretty good idea whether Central Maine Community College or Berkeley College would come out on top in Saturday’s hard-fought men’s basketball game.

CMCC’s Josh Chery watches his dunked ball fall through the basket during Saturday’s game in Auburn against Berkley College. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The Knights’ experienced a cold spell toward the middle of the second half, but they went on to unlatch a tie with less than four minutes remaining to slip away with an 88-82 victory over the tenacious Mustangs.

CMCC’s switch to a zone defense had a lot to do with slowing down the Knights, who found away around the Mustangs’ defensive push.

“We switched to a zone, which we think we have pretty good zone; that helped a little bit,” CMCC coach Dave Gonyea said. “We forced them to shoot outside, but at the other end, we couldn’t convert offensively. 

“Our decision-making wasn’t really good. We didn’t handle the pressure that well, and some of our players … didn’t step up tonight. You are only going to be as good as your best players take you (there).”

With just under four minutes left in the game, Daquan Jackson scored two of his 11 points to break a 78-78 tie, then Aaron Walker Jr. (25 points) landed a 3-pointer and Dontel Henry (25 points) dropped in another two, providing Berkeley with an 85-80 lead with 2:37. From that point, the Knights’ defense held the high ground for the win.

“What we did was stick together,” Berkeley guard Foday Saccoh said. “I made sure my teammates were in sync, made sure we ran a lot plays and we just never gave up.  That’s what we do.

CMCC’s DeMarco McKissic makes a basket during Saturday’s game in Auburn against Berkley College. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

“We took a seven-hour trip and now we are here. (The Mustangs) gave us a run for our money. They came back on us. As you can see, they have good program and were able to stay with us, but we fight, we fight and we fight.”

What also made the difference in Berkeley’s win was good, old-fashioned foul shooting, The Knights shot 73.3 percent from the charity stripe, with Walker going 11-for-14 and Henry 7-for-9.

“Our guys really pulled it through,” Berkeley coach Jonathan Pena said. “ We got lazy then. This is early on (in the season). This is only our third game, so we try to get comfortable and teach our guys how to consistently play and keep up the momentum for more than four or five minutes.” 

In the first half, the lead kept changing hands before Berkeley built a 45-39 lead heading into halftime.

The Knights then opened up on the Mustangs early in the second half, building a 55-42 cushion. But CMCC rebounded and put a stop to the Knights’ outside shooting and tied the game at 78-78.

“I thought our group effort was pretty good,” Gonyea said.  The kids rallied down the stretch. We were down by 12. They rallied down the stretch to tighten it up. They didn’t quit. They played hard.”

CMCC’s Malik Farley dribbles past Berkley’s Turray Bynum during Saturdays game in Auburn. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The Mustangs, who shot 47%, held the Knights to 38% shooting from the field, and outrebounded Berkeley 46-29. But the Knights only turned the ball over six times, while CMCC coughed it up 29 times.

“We knew (the Knights) were very athletic,” Gonyea said. “They get to the basket and rebounded. We knew all that was going to happen. We tried to prepare for that, but at the end of the day, the better team wins, and they were better today.”

Josh Chery was the CMCC’s leading scorer with 17 points, followed by Corey David, DeMarco McKissie and Marshall Evans, who each came away with 13 apiece, and Malik Farley with 12 points, including three 3-pointers.

 

 

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