By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In his 15 years of coaching, head coach Kenney Wilcox's teams have always been good. In 10 years at Globe Institute and five years now at ASA College, his teams always managed to get a bye in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association's playoffs.
However, this season the ASA College Avengers limped into the playoffs, losing their final three regular season games and five of their last seven. There would be no bye week this time.
"We're his first team in I don't know how long that had to play in the play-in game so of course it puts pressure on us," ASA College's Bishop Daniels admitted. "That doesn't discourage us. I think as a team it just gives us more motivation to do more than what any other of (Wilcox's) teams have ever done."
The Avengers passed their first test on Tuesday when they established an early lead and persevered through a second-half comeback attempt to beat Globe Institute 79-73 at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights to advance to the second round of the NJCAA Division I Region XV playoffs.
"It was an intense game," Wilcox said. "They have tough kids that won't back down. I knew that we had to come out strong in the second half and we didn't. That's why it came down to the end. We talked at halftime about maintaining our intensity in the second half and pulling away, but we weren't able to do that."
Bishop Daniels, a Rutgers University commit, contributed with 17 points, seven assists and four steals from the bench and hit big shots down the stretch to put his team ahead on three separate occasions. Rickey Meekins led the team with 18 points and Micqueel Martin had 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Avengers entered this game having played three games in three days and six games over their past eight. To make things worse, they only had eight players available. Despite that, they played a strong first half. Martin lead the team with 11 first half points and Ante Mioc and Martin each had eight. They built up their largest lead late in the first when a 12-0 run gave the Avengers a 34-21 lead with 4:04 left in the half.
Eventually all the games and the lack of depth did catch up with the Avengers in the second half. Globe came out on a 10-4 run that made it 43-39 and got the Manhattan school back into the game. Globe would eventually take a 58-57 lead with 8:59 to play when T.J. Jackson tossed in a desperation layup behind his head, a play that he would be unlikely to duplicate given another 100 tries.
From there the teams went back and forth with 12 different lead changes over the final nine minutes. Neither team led by more than three points for the rest of the game until the Avengers, with a slim one-point lead, began hitting foul shots in the final 30 seconds of the game.
"It was a must win for us," Daniels said. "When we were up in the first half, we knew they were going to try to punch us in the mouth early in the second half so we just tried to maintain composure, slow down and play our game. They were going to make a run. There is no way they weren't going to in the playoffs. We just had to step up on defense. If we lost composure, we would have lost the game."
The Avengers (17-9 overall and 2-6 in conference play) finally get a few days off before they play Harcum College (24-2 overall and 8-0 in conference) in the Region XV semifinals at Suffolk Community College this Saturday. Harcum is currently the No. 4 ranked team in the NJCAA in the country and beat ASA College 76-71 last Saturday.
"They've only lost twice this year," Wilcox said of Harcum College. "We almost beat them in our last regular season without Bishop. We were down one with 30 seconds to play. If we play well, we'll be right there in that game. It'll come down to defense, rebounding, and making shots."