BETHLEHEM, PA - "Region Champs". That is what the Cumberland County College Dukes Basketball team (23-6) motto all year and what they have shouted after every team huddle. On Saturday night, they brought themselves one step closer to achieving the first Region 19 championship in program history. In order to do so, they had to win their first game in the regional final four in program history and the Roadrunners of Rowan College at Gloucester County (26-5) stood in their way.
In the regular season, RCGC and the Dukes split their season series with each team winning on the road by two points (73-71;95-93), so as fate would have it, the two teams would meet once again. This time with a berth in the Region Championship game on the line.
After the tip, both teams played incredible defense as neither RCGC or the Dukes could extend their leads above two points with multiple lead changes early. After starter SJ Hawkins receive a pair of early four and RCGC applying full court pressure, reserve guard Kevin Clark was entered into the game and immediately asserted himself into the contest. An aggressive Clark paired with fellow freshmen guard Tyler Lunsford to give the Dukes a quick burst to open up their lead to 22-17 at the 9:43 mark of the first half. The Dukes would extend their lead to 11, before RCGC made a run of their own to close the gap to 34-30.
RCGC were led by Na'Quan McPherson (15 Points) and Chris Lyons (22 points) who brought the Roadrunners within three points at the half at 36-33. The Roadrunners also received double-double contributions from forwards Rasheen Merlin (12 points, 10 rebounds) and Jon Hevalow (13 points, 13 rebounds). The early stages of the second half resembled the first half as both teams bursted out of the locker room with intense defensive energy. RCGC and the Dukes had trouble putting the ball in the basket as every shot and pass were heavily contested. Cumberland however would receive veteran leadership at the right time.
Kristopher Bobo entered the game in place of SJ Hawkins and played a stellar first half. However, for a short period in the 2nd half, the Region 19 semifinal turned into the Bobo Show. As the game hung in the balance, Bobo nailed a pair of 3-pointers and deposited a lay-in to put the Dukes up 59-56. His energy on the defensive end led to multiple turnovers by RCGC, that sent the Dukes on fastbreaks to open up their lead to 73-60 with 3:30 left in the game. The Roadrunners would not go quietly as their defensive pressure brought them back into the game and would cut the deficit to 3 after Lyons would drill a 3-pointer to bring the score to 75-71. After a Dukes turnover, Lyons would hit another 3-pointer to bring RCGC within a point at 75-74.
The ensuing possession, the Dukes would turn the ball over on a shot clock violation that left 17 seconds on the board with only a one point lead. On the final possession, the Dukes would impose the defensive pressure that brought them to this point and force Chris Lyons into a hurried 3-point shot that fell short as the buzzer sounded. An exuberant Dukes bench was matched by the crowd as the win sent Cumberland to their first Region 19 Championship game in program history.
In the Championship game on Sunday, the Dukes will face the Brookdale Jersey Blues (30-0), who is the #1 ranked team in the NJCAA Division 3 Polls. Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 PM. Cumberland will look to defeat the Jersey Blues for the first time this season, in what will be the biggest game in program history.