HERKIMER, NY — Ask anyone at either Herkimer College or Mohawk Valley Community College and they will tell you that the biggest game on the hardwood in NJCAA Region III basketball is between the Generals and the Hawks.
Wednesday night at Herkimer College, the number two and three teams in the nation put together one for the ages.
Sophomore Derrick Felder had twelve points, including the final two free throws to seal the game, while classmate Teshaun Beckles contributed 17 in the Generals’ 73-70 victory over the Hawks. In all, five Herkimer players scored in double-digits. Rackwon Holliman kept the Hawks in the game throughout, picking up 23 points in the loss, including eight straight points to put Mohawk Valley ahead late.
“It was our first home game back from the [winter] break… we just came out and did what we had to do,” Felder said of his team’s performance. “Our student section gave us a lot of support. They were loud and great…they helped us out on offense and defense. They played a huge role in this win.”
That student section, decked out in athletic garb from Herkimer’s past successes in every sport, was loud from the start, keeping the Hawks on their toes from the opening tipoff. Unfortunately, the Generals did not come out with the same fire, missing their first three shots and three of their first four. The Hawks came out equally cold, but were able to warm up a little bit quicker, jumping out to a 6-2 lead within the first minute of the game. However, timely rebounds and blocks under the basket by freshman Isaiah Stone allowed to keep the score close.
That would be all the Generals would need, as a big three-point shot by sophomore Darius Hines allowed Herkimer to get on a 5-2 run to reel the Hawks in. They’d pick up the lead soon after on a tip-in by sophomore James Jackson to grab the lead, a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the first half. From there, both teams would employ an up-tempo style of play, rushing up and down the court for most of the rest of the half.
“It was a tough game. Any time we play Mohawk Valley, it’s tough,” Herkimer head coach Matt Lee said. “I think our experience helped us tonight. We haven’t been in this situation all season, but that’s where the [sophomores] come in. I don’t know how many teams have five guys who have won regional titles, and that’s good for us.”
That experience allowed Herkimer to extend the lead to eight with just six minutes left in the period. Meanwhile, on the other side, poor shooting did not allow Mohawk Valley to get a foothold, and that allowed the Generals to generate a 7-0 run late in the first half to put together a 10-point lead just before halftime.
The Hawks would not be denied, however, chipping away at the lead for the duration of the half, helped along by a long-range shot by Windell Lucas to cut the lead to four. However, the Generals made sure that was as close as the Hawks would get, with a long three-pointer by Beckles to give Herkimer a 38-31 lead going into the locker room.
“We got in major foul trouble in the first half, and now we had to play small and we lost our routine,” Lee said of the foul trouble that allowed Mohawk Valley back in in the late stages of the first half. “Mohawk Valley did a good job of getting fouled today.” In all, the Generals were fouled ten times to the Hawks’ seven in the first half, allowing them to go nine-of-eighteen from the free-throw line.
However, the Generals started the second half like they ended the first: with a long-range shot, this time from Hines to extend the lead. Hines would extend it even further with a bomb from near the mid-court logo to bring the lead to 12 very early on in the second half.
Unfortunately for the Generals, that was when Jamale Cummings and the Hawks started to heat up. Cummings would score five straight Mohawk Valley points, helping the Hawks outscore Herkimer 14-8 in the first five minutes to cut the lead to three. From there, it was a back-and forth game in which neither team would extend their lead further than five points. That’s when another Mohawk Valley player started to get hot. After free throws on both sides helped to cut the Mohawk Valley lead to one with just 11 minutes left in the game, Holliman began to get hot. Out of a timeout with just over nine minutes left, Holliman put the Hawks on his back, slashing through the Herkimer defense for three straight layups and a free throw for the tie and the lead. That forced Lee to call a timeout of his own with just over seven minutes left, and set up a wild finish in Herkimer.
“The second half, they punched us in the mouth…I didn’t have a gold medal game tonight,” Felder said, “But my teammates trusted me enough to go out there and get the win. [Lee] told us to stay together and stay focused. We came together as a team and got the win.”
Felder came out from the timeout and helped the team do just that, starting a long-range barrage with a three-pointer with just three minutes left to cut the lead to two. From there, the Herkimer shooting that had gone stone-cold in the middle third of the game came to life, as Beckles and Felder shot the lights out to give the Generals the 69-67 lead with just two minutes left.
It would come down to the final minute and 15 seconds, as Jonathan Dean hit a big three of his own, forcing Lee to call a timeout with just 48 seconds left. According to Felder, that was where the team knew they could break through and get the win.
“He told us we were going to get three possessions,” Felder said. “He told us we were going to get the stop, get the rebound and that’s exactly what happened.”
They did manage to get the stop, and that allowed sophomore Musa Pough to get the game-winning field goal, off a short three-pointer by Herkimer with just seconds remaining. With just seven seconds left, Herkimer was able to partially block what would have been the game-winning shot by Jordanny Cuevas-Marte. From there, Felder got the last two points on free throws to seal the game for the Generals.
The win gives second-ranked Herkimer the inside track to host the Region III tournament in February. When the tournament comes around, it might come down to Generals/Hawks once again, this time with a berth in the National Championship in Rochester, Minnesota on the line. However, for now, Felder and the rest of the Generals are focused on just one thing: their next game against Clinton Community College.
“You definitely want to be playing your best when February comes around,” Lee said. “Now we have a couple of tough games coming up…we have to stay focused so we continue to play well when February comes.”
“That was our closest game of the season tonight,” Felder said of his Generals, whose closest game in their 14-game winning streak before Wednesday night was a 10-point victory over Finger Lakes back in November. “That was huge for us. We know we have to be ready for anyone, anywhere.”
Judging by the performance on Wednesday night from both teams, the road to Rochester, Minnesota could be winding its way (for Region III teams, at least) through the Mohawk Valley in February.
#2 Herkimer Generals 73, #3 Mohawk Valley Hawks 70
Generals 38 35 73
Hawks 31 39 70
Herkimer Generals (73)
Darius Hines 4 0-0 12, Teshaun Beckles 7 0-0 17, Keshaun Howard 3 2-4 10, Derrick Felder 4 3-6 12, Arnold Agard 1 0-0 3, Musa Pough 6 1-2 13, Jaymes Jackson 1 0-0 2, Isaiah Stone 1 2-2 4. Totals: 27 8-14 73.
Mohawk Valley Hawks (70)
Eddie Mehmetaj 3 1-2 7, Justin Steed 1 2-3 5, Jordanny Cuevas-Marte 2 3-4 7, Jamale Cummings 2 1-4 5, Rackwon Holliman 7 9-14 23, Jonathan Dean 7 2-4 18, Windell Lucas 2 0-0 5.
Halftime: Herkimer 38, Mohawk Valley 31
Total Fouls: Herkimer 19, Mohawk Valley 17.
Technical Fouls: Herkimer 1 (assessed to the coach, 13:05 2nd Half).
Three-Point Field Goals: Herkimer 11 (Hines 4, Beckles 3, Howard 2, Felder, Agard), Mohawk Valley 4 (Dean 2, Steed, Lucas).