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Saints roll to home playoff win

North Country Community College forward Ascaun Johnson leaps to defend a shot by Columbia-Greene’s Cameron Thomas during the first half of Saturday’s game at NCCC’s Sparks Athletic Complex in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Before this year, the last time the North Country Community College men’s basketball team hosted a Region III postseason game was back in 2007. On Saturday, the Saints made the most out of their chance to compete at home in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

In a Region III playoff game between eighth-seeded NCCC and No. 9 Columbia-Greene, the Saints rolled to an 83-61 victory over the Twins.

NCCC played tough defense from start to finish, and got hotter on offense as the game progressed to move on to face the Region III tournament’s top seed, Mohawk Valley, in quarterfinal road matchup Tuesday evening.

North Country led 38-28 lead at the intermission, and outscored the Twins 45-33 in the second half to reach the Region III tournament quarterfinal round for the first time in three years.

The Saints buried 10 three-pointers , including seven after halftime, on the way to the victory. North County clung to a 19-18 edge with 6 minutes remaining in the first half, and then gradually increased the lead to double digits by intermission. The Twins scored the first four points of the second half to cut their deficit to 38-32, but the Saints answered with an 11-2 run and stayed in command the rest of the way.

Tarique Foggie of the Saints controls the ball while Anthony Diaz defends for the Twins in Saturday’s game. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“It looked like we were a little nervous to start offensively, but all year, our defense has been good,” Saints head coach Daryl Crist said. “We weren’t necessarily scoring on offense, but our defense was holding them. I knew it was just nerves. I knew we’d play through it, and I felt confident the way our defense was playing.

“Once we get comfortable and get the looks that we want to get, we’re pretty good at making shots,” Crist continued. “That team didn’t quit so we had to keep making shots. Once we started playing offense, it got a little bit easier for us. We were controlling the game.”

Four players scored in double figures for the Saints. Carol Davis led the way with 18 points, Lashaun Smith followed with 15, and Tarique Foggie and Von Livingston each added 11. Cameron Thomas paced Columbia-Greene, finishing with a game-high 20 points. Myles Ukoh scored 16 in the loss and teammate Zach Hedgepeth tossed in 14 points.

Columbia-Greene finished with a 9-18 record overall.

Livingston, who hails from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, was one of four NCCC sophomores playing for the final time on their home court. He battled through an injury to help the Saints advance keep their season going.

“It felt good,” Livingston said. “Last home game, I had to give it my all even though I was a little hurt. But I pushed it and we got the W. We swung the ball, played great defense, ran our plays and ran our offense.”

The Saints improved to 16-11 overall with the win and now take on the nation’s second-ranked NJCAA Division III men’s team. Mohawk Valley enters Tuesday’s game with a 13-game win streak and 25-record. The Hawks went 2-0 against the Saints in during the regular season. They rolled over North Country 106-78 when they last met on Feb. 4, but barely got past the Saints on Jan. 25 in Saranac Lake, eking out 78-77 victory.

Crist said just knowing how close his players came to knocking off the Hawks earlier should give them some confidence heading into the third meeting between the teams.

“It was our ball with one second left, our baseline with a shot to win it,” Crist said. “We’ve played with them. Down there it’s very tough, but if we stick together, play team basketball, share it on the offensive end, play defense, rebound, we’ll be fine. That’s what we’ve been saying for a week, ‘Why not us?'”

“Of course we can can do it,” Livingston said. “As long as we can stay together, play our game, we’ll be straight — looking forward to it.”

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