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Creola’s night to remember

Warren native guided JCC to national tournament berth

File Photo In this March 1981 file photo, Warren native and Jamestown Community College men’s basketball coach Nick Creola celebrates after the Jayhawks advanced to the NJCAA tournament.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Warren native Nick Creola was the men’s basketball coach at Jamestown Community College for 13 seasons, including the 1980-81 campaign when he guided the Jayhawks to the NJCAA Tournament after knocking off Roxbury (Massachusetts) CC, 91-77, on March 11, 1981 before a crowd of 2,500 at the Physical Education Complex. It’s been nearly 40 years since Creola led that team to the nationals, so it was deemed appropriate to take a trip down memory lane as we approach the anniversary of that milestone.

JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — “It isn’t very often I get like this,” said Jamestown Community College men’s basketball coach Nick Creola as tears poured from his eyes in the Jayhawks’ locker room Wednesday night. “You’ve done it.”

What the Jayhawks had done was win their first-round game of the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament by a 91-77 score over the Roxbury CC Express to earn themselves and their coach a trip to Hutchinson, Kansas. The next action for Jamestown CC will be a battle of hawks as the Jayhawks meet the Blackhawks of Southeastern CC (West Burlington, Iowa) Tuesday at 1:45 p.m. in the second round of the tournament in the Hutchinson Sorts Arena.

“You’ve made me very proud of you,” Creola continued as he wiped the tears from his eyes. “But be humble in victory. there’s going to be a day you’re going to lose.”

It has been quite a while since the Jayhawks have lost as they head to Kansas with 13 wins in their last 14 games for a 27-6 record.

This is the second trip to the nationals for Jamestown CC. The last time was 1976 when the Jayhawks won once, lost a game at the buzzer and another by four points. That four-point loss was to Southwestern and it eliminated Jamestown CC from the tournament. The blackhawks’ coach then and still is, Charlie Spoonhour who was in attendance last night to scout the next opponent for his 24-6 club.

“They’re a great team,” Coach Willie Booker told his Roxbury club after the loss. “They could have been beaten tonight if we had a little more rest.”

He was referring to the fact that his team, based in a suburb of Boston, traveled all night to get here. The Express didn’t arrive until 9 a.m. and managed to get a few hours of sleep in their hotel rooms before the game.

“(The Region 3 directors) didn’t tell us we had to come here until Monday night,” Booker explained. “The kids through they were gong to Kansas.”

After his club won the Region 21 title Monday night it thought it had a first-round bye and would advance to Kansas for the second round Instead, it finally learned of the game with the Region 3 champion, returned back to its campus in Massachusetts and then made hasty arrangements to come to Jamestown.

Submitted Photo Jamestown Community College men’s basketball coach Nick Creola, standing far right, guided the Jayhawks to a 27-8 record during the 1980-81 season, including a trip to the NJCAA Tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.

The Express didn’t look tired in the opening minutes as it jumped off to a 5-2 lead but then JCC answered with nine straight points to take an 11-5 lead with 16 minutes left. That string of points was started and ended by Joe Farmer and it was an indication that the 6-5 sophomore had come to play as he had his finest game in quite a while. JCC continued to hold the lead as the scouting report on Roxbury that Creola had heard was very true. The Express did not rebound well, it didn’t get back a couple of times to stop the fast break and it didn’t attack the zone well which JCC switched into when it got the lead. Also, Roxbury tried to be too fancy at times and the result was a turnover.

But then the visitors’ leading scorer, Ron Jackson, who is listed eighth in the nation with a 26.4 average, began to hit along with Mark Ward and Clarence Buggs to put the Express in the lead 19-18 with 8:50 left. JCC went back in front, but it was costly as Rudy Braswell came in to spell Tony Robinson and picked up three very quick fouls.

JCC could have led by eight at halftime, but Farmer was called for goaltending on a layup by Jackson with three seconds left in the half which cut the lead to 40-34 at halftime.

Before the second-half tip Creola told his club of the last time JCC had to play the Region 21 winner in 1975 for the right to advance to Kansas.

“We lost to Housatonic and it was a sick feeling,” he recalled. “Twenty minutes and we’re on the plane.”

That pep talk didn’t have an immediate effect on JCC as Roxbury came out in the second half with six straight points to trail by one. Then Farmer and Robinson started to hit and the Jayhawks moved back in front by nine with 16:05 left. Roxbury came back to pull within three and, in the process, Rucker, who was hot from outside with 11 points in the first half to tie Farmer, and Robinson picked up their third fouls.

But the turning point of the game came on a foul call with 5:38 left. That is when Robinson fouled out and the point guard position was left to Braswell who took over with three fouls. If he fouled out, JCC would have been in real trouble.

But with the issue still up for grabs as Roxbury trailed by only five, 70-65, with 4:55 left, Braswell, Winley and Rucker made sure the Express didn’t grab it. While Braswell had no trouble getting the ball up court, Rucker kept popping in pressure jump shots and Winley sunk pressure one-and-ones from the foul line to move the lead to seven. Roxbury knew it had to score quickly and put up bombs that hit to cut the lead to five. But Rucker would come right back with a jumper to up the lead to seven again and did it three straight times. Then Winley came through at the foul line to keep the hosts in front.

Finally, the Jayhawks put together a six-point string to give JCC an 87-74 lead with about a minute to go and at that point Creola and his crew knew it would be on that plane the coach was talking about.

In that 3:30 stretch in which JCC outscored Roxbury 17-9, Rucker scored 10 points from the field and Winley five from the foul line. Creola pointed out that during that clinching stretch drive Rucker was “Mr. Clutch” and he also praised the performance of Braswell. Booker mentioned after the game, “We didn’t attack 22 (Braswell).”

Rucker finished as JCC’s leading scorer with 27 points, leading rebounder with 13 and leading thief with five steals. Farmer was next high with 25 points while Robinson had 16 points and 11 assists and Winley had 15 points.

Ceasar finished up with 10 rebounds.

Jackson tallied 27 points for Roxbury, Swinton 14 and Ward and Buggs had 10 apiece.

JCC hit 56 percent (36-of-64) from the field and an important 70 percent (19-of-27) from the foul line. Roxbury was 43 percent from the field (34-of-78) but had fewer chances at the foul line for 60 percent (9-of-15). JCC led the rebounding 44-40 and also the turnover department 15-11.

This was the first loss on the court for Roxbury which finishes the season 21-4. The other three losses were forfeits due to an ineligible player.

The Jayhawks Willie Pulliam summed up the win best in the locker room when he said, “Just put in the paper we’re going to Kansas.”

Pulliam speaks the truth.

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