By: Joshua Gerard Gargiulo
PHOENIX - A balanced attack from Men’s basketball hands Scottsdale their third-straight loss. Phoenix College ends conference play (for the calendar year) on a high note.
The starting five of Phoenix College were active from the jump. A missed Deron Kyle three was rebounded by Alfredo Fuentes and fed back to Kyle, via Darius Goudeau, for a deep two. With that, PC saw themselves on-the-board within the first 17 seconds.
Deron Kyle scored the first six points for the Bears. Kenny Sutton and Alfredo Fuentes helped sprout a short-lived 6-0 run. Only to have the Artichokes of Scottsdale find their way back into it- early. The teams traded baskets for a few minutes.
At the 14:49 mark, Stretch-four Ahmed Levon was subbed in for Alfredo Fuentes. He made an immediate impact with back-to-back threes, a steal, and a drawn foul on Carlos Barela. All in one minute- flat; thirty seconds later, assisting a Deron Kyle basket. He finished out with a “Heat Check” three that swished, giving the Bears a 25-18 lead.
Both teams saw a slew of misses following Xavier Fuller free throws, with about 11:30 left. The cold spells for both teams lasted about four minutes, with only four baskets being scored during the downtime.
None other than Ahmed Levon would be the one to start-up the Bears attack, netting a clutch three-pointer to put the Bears ahead by nine. Deron Kyle pushed the lead to eleven with a basket thirty seconds later. Forward Michael Walcott and Chris Akil also aided in supplementing the lead. The goal was keeping what they had. They did just that by keeping their 15-point lead heading into halftime.
“We learned early they don’t shot the ball very well,” head coach Duane Eason said. “So we knew the zone would be more effective against them. We forced them to take some shots they didn’t want. And thankfully, we were able to go on the other end and put it in the basket.”
Contesting shots was a vital point to the Bears’ win. The Artichokes of Scottsdale only shot 37% from the floor, and a disappointing 1-8 from three.
To start the second half, every player on the floor scored except Alfredo Fuentes. Every basket in the first four minutes was assisted. A point encapsulating outstanding ball movement from the Bears. They finished with their second-most assists in a single-game with 23.
Despite a whopping 14-2 run to start the second half, the Bears only managed to score three more points in the next six minutes. Thankful the 14-2 run allowed some flexibility. The Artichokes also failed to make a distinct move, coming two points shy of tying the Bears’ second-half points.
Although PC fell short of their average in points-per-game, the final score of Wednesday’s game saw the Bears cruising to a comfortable 84-67 lead.
The Bears sit atop the ACCAC with a conference record of 5-1. Winners of five straight, PC will have 23 days off from conference play, starting from their last played game. However, they host Midland College, Vancouver Island University and Taylor Made Prep, in that order, December 28-30th in the Phoenix College Holiday Classic.
Head coach Duane Eason wants to see the tempo higher in this second semester of play. Specifically, he wants to see his players “play for all forty minutes.”
In a conference that is “all-over the place.” It is hard, this early in the season, to separate the contenders and bottom-dwellers from each other. It becomes especially hard when the Top-9 teams are only separated by two games, in conference and overall.
“Much like boxing, match-ups make the game,” Eason said. “We are difficult to play against because we do a lot of things different than others in the conference... We’ve gone through every DII, with the exception of Pima- until we go through and see everybody- that’s when we will find out where we stand in that rotation.”
The ACCAC may be seeing a “silent revolution” with new-comer Duane Eason. The first-time head coach brings an “East Coast” style to the Arizona courts. His game plan starts with defense at the forefront. The offense usually falls into place. Undoubtedly so, Eason’s team holds a Top-3 spot in Defensive Rebounds-per-game, Steals, and Opponent Turnovers-per-game.
Eason references in his experience that a lot of coaches preach the mantra of “defense wins championships,” but do not truly focus on defense. In the west coast game, you can get away with not guarding. Within the east coast game, you could score 15; but if your opposition is matching your 15, “you’re just as good as the next guy.”
“Obviously I’m biased, but I think our basketball is better on that side of the country. I don’t think the players are better, the style is better.”
Eason mentions that the West Coast game is usually filtered through one or two players, where the East finds ways to incorporate all eight, ten or twelve guys. Coach understands that anyone can have an off-night; and with so-many guys seeing time. It is all about having someone picking up where others are lacking- that night. Furthermore, coach believes the more his players can find trust in one-another, the better his players will do in handling their opponents.
“I think if you put our style out here, and their style out there; it would be the same results. People think the West Coast ballers ‘don’t get out there,’ ‘they are soft.’ But that’s not it. They are just like everyone else. When you have a baby, the baby is only going to become what the family preaches- They just play- and out here, runnin’ and gunnin, playin’ finesse, shooting jumpers; that’s what the brand is out here.”
When the first-time head coach made his move to Phoenix, the first thing he noticed was a “very vanilla” style of play. Everyone in this state models the same type of style: the Golden State Warriors. The culture entails heavy recruitment of top-players (usually overlapping positional needs), finding your best players and feeding the ball to your best players.
“When you play a grittier, tougher brand of basketball: with defense, and offensive rebounding and taking charges- when you can steal 20 points from other facets of the game. Those points make-up for their best player, who averages 20 points a game.”
Eason expanded on his point.
“We’re tough on defense. We do the little things. We force turnovers. We get offensive rebounds. But on the same token, we got Deron averaging 18-19 points-per-game, and you got Darius averaging 19 points-per-game. So we got just as much offense as anybody else; but then, we also do the little things.”
NJCAA and NCAA history shows that when teams run into unfamiliar styles of play, the outcome is in favor of teams like Eason’s. Former Bears’ coach, Matt Gordon had the same success when he brought his UCLA roots to the valley in 2004. During his 14-year tenure, winning numerous regular season and post-season titles. Most notably, the 2014 NJCAAA National Championship.
Eleven games in, the Bears are looking down at everyone else in the division. Although only one game separates them and fifth place, a five-game winning streak has optimism running high in the office and in the gym. Nevertheless, it is a test of durability for the first-year coach and his team.
The Men’s and Women’s teams will be hosting the Phoenix College Holiday Classic on December 28th, through December 30th, at the Bears’ den. 1202 West Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ 85013.