BY BRETT FRIEDENSOHN
A season that started out hopeful took a quick turn as the County College of Morris men’s basketball team failed to build on early momentum and its record dropped to 5-11 as the season winds down.
On Tuesday, Nov. 19, the team stood at 1-0 in region play and 3-3 overall after an 88-75 win over Orange County Community College. The Titans then lost seven consecutive games, starting with a 103-84 loss to Union County College Tuesday, Nov. 22 and ending with a 102-80 loss to Essex County College Thursday, Dec. 15. CCM broke its streak with a 91-84 win over Sussex County Community College (SCCC) Thursday, Dec. 22 before winning 100-71 to Top Rock Academy Thursday, Jan. 5 and then losing 98-72 to Manor County College Saturday, Jan. 14, bringing the team’s record to 1-6 in region play and 5-11 overall. In order to pick up their record again, the Titans hope to improve their defense and regain injured players.
CCM men’s basketball head coach Anthony Obery said that his team has quality shooting abilities but they need to work to improve their defense.
“Our defense has got to be our main focus,” Obery said. “We can score with the best of them. Our offense is not the problem … It’s not all about scoring. I want them to understand that going to different schools and getting scholarships, the majority of the time, it happens on the defensive end of the floor, and if those guys buy into that, then they’ll understand what it takes to win games. And until they understand what defense is, they won’t win.”
Obery said that injuries have hindered his team, citing injuries to guards Najee Plunkett and Damoine Askew, the latter of whom has played through his injury by competing in some games and sitting out of others, and forward Funot Woldentnsai who returned for the Titans’ Dec. 22 win over SCCC.
“A lot of our problem is we have no depth on the bench because of injury, so that’s why a lot of our starting five are getting tired,” Obery said. “But they’re still fighting no matter what. When we lose, it’s close games. It’s not games where we’re getting blown out the water, but some games, when it comes down to five minutes on the clock, my guys have no energy left because we have no bench.”
During four of the seven losses during CCM’s streak, the team lost by 10 points or fewer.
CCM athletic director Jack Sullivan said the day after the Titans’ Jan. 5 win over Top Rock Academy that the team was developing well despite the injuries.
“Everybody gets bumps and bruises; it happens,” Sullivan said. “That’s why you have a bench. That’s why there’s depth on the team. You don’t just carry five guys. That’s why you carry 10. What I saw last night was very encouraging. Everyone played a lot of minutes, and everybody contributed and did a nice job, so hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come.”
Obery said that in order to improve its defense, his team should focus on man coverage.
“Our guards have a hard time standing in front of our man because they’re so used to relying on the help from our bigs,” Obery said. “I don’t want them to rely on help because that gets us in foul trouble a lot, so I want them to learn and to understand that when you go into the next level, not just here but if you want to continue playing basketball, you have to stay in front of your man, and so, our man-to-man defense has to get better.”
CCM men’s basketball guard and business administration major Quinten Pharis cited conditioning and shooting as strengths for his team.
“We’re more conditioned than most of the teams,” Pharis said. “Shooting-wise, I feel like we could run teams out of the gym with our shooting, and if we play together on our defense, there’s not a lot of teams that could beat us.”
CCM men’s basketball guard and business administration major Kendrick Clayton said that the gaining of returning players should help his team.
“We’ll have a fuller team, deeper team, deeper rotations,” Clayton said.
Sullivan said that winter break, during which the team had a two-week stretch without gameplay, should help.
“The more they play together, the more they’ll get to know each other, the better the chemistry, the better the commodore and the teamwork, so it should be a nice second half,” Sullivan said. “At the end of the first semester, you’re always under a lot of stress because of finals and papers and stuff like that, so what happens in the first semester usually gets erased when you have this big of a break. So I think they always come back with a new sense of energy and focus and enthusiasm, and I think they came back, got right back to work, did a nice job last night, and hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Obery said that his team has understanding of and love for basketball.
“None of these players that I have never give me a doubt in my mind that they don’t love the game,” Obery said. “It means that we’re better than what we should be. Even though they lose, they understand why we lose … They know why we’re losing games, and that’s what makes the difference. If I had a team that didn’t understand why we keep losing, then that would be a different story.”