Six Flags Great Adventure may be approximately 25 miles southwest of the Robert J. Collins Arena on the campus of Brookdale Community College, but the Cumberland County College Men's Basketball team certainly had their own rollercoaster ride at the basketball home of the Jersey Blues.
In just the second game of the season, the Dukes lost a heartbreaker to the defending champion Brookdale Jersey Blues, 71-70. In that game, they missed countless opportunities, including multiple chances to win the game in the final seconds. Just over a month and a half later, the Dukes returned to the RJC Arena and exorcized those demons by defeating Brookdale 80-74 in the quarterfinal round of the Region XIX Tournament. Cumberland was riding high as they qualified for the Region XIX Final Four in consecutive seasons, a first in program history.
Awaiting them in the semifinal round were the Blue Colts of Middlesex County College. Cumberland had split the season series with Middlesex, losing at Middlesex and winning at home. You can ask anyone in the industry of sports, facing a team three times is always extremely difficult. Difficult would be a mild way to describe the Dukes Saturday evening as Middlesex executed their defensive gameplan to frustrate the Dukes into missed shots and turnovers. Despite the cold night on offense, Cumberland still only trailed by 10 for most of the 1st half before a buzzer beater by Middlesex put the deficit to 12 at the half.
Early in the second half, the Dukes looked poised for a comeback as they pulled within 4 points. Taylor Clarke and Kevin Clark, the two lone sophomores on the roster, did all they could on the offensive end to put Cumberland over the top, but they would not get any closer than the 4 point deficit. Clarke finished with a team-high 17 points and 5 rebounds, with Clark contributing 10 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists. Phil Cisrow was held to an uncharacteristic night with 9 points, but was able to pull down 12 rebounds while Mark Baez-Colon chipped in 7 points and 3 rebounds. The disappointing night would end in defeat as the Dukes would fall 69-51.
To call the end result a disappointment would be a blessing in disguise for first-year head coach Darrin Stalling. A leader with over 20 years of coaching experience, Stalling took over the program in August and immediately hit the ground running. As the first official practice was a mere two months away, Coach Stalling built a staff and put together a very inexperienced roster in order to take the journey back to the Region XIX Final Four. With 9 Freshmen returning from this year's 19-10 team, look for the Dukes to be back contending once again for the Region XIX Championship.