By: Joshua Gerard Gargiulo
PHOENIX - A four-game win streak quickly turns into dark times for Men’s Basketball; as a compliance-issue, and back-to-back losses drops the Bears into last place in conference play.
Just before the turn of the New Year, Head Coach Duane Eason was looking down at the rest of the ACCAC. Coming off of their sixth-straight win at the time; just as the Bears’ were going into the final day of the Phoenix College Holiday Classic, the news broke that Phoenix College would be forfeiting six specific conference and non-conference games, due to a compliance issue.
Those games included: at Midland College (11/2), at South Mountain (11/28), at Mesa (12/1), Tohono O’odham (12/5), Chandler-Gilbert (12/8) and Scottsdale (12/12).
“You just got to keep plugging away,” coach Eason said.
Despite a significant win against Eastern Arizona, at home, on January 5th. Back-to-back road losses found Phoenix College in last place, among Division II schools, in a “toss-up” for the ACCAC. With the Scottsdale Artichokes in first-place, a game behind them are the Chandler-Gilbert Coyotes. Another game separates the Mesa Thunderbirds and Gauchos of Glendale, with their conference record 5-4 and 4-5 respectively. Two games back from them is South Mountain, with a conference record of 2-7. Rounding out the group is Phoenix College at 1-8.
But those standings are “not even close” to a representation of how this season has fared on the floor. If not for the forfeitures, the Bears would have been 6-3 in the standings; one game back of Arizona Western following their loss to them last Wednesday. A game that saw five Bears in double-figures, including another near double-double from Darius Goudeau.
With multiple players sitting out for specific reasons, the addition of guard Trajahn Johnson has allowed the Bears some supplemental play. But the true-freshman seems to be “feeling-out the transition,” as he is only averaging 4.3 points over his first three games. Regardless, Johnson’s superior athleticism brings something the Bears’ have been missing.
“He’s a high-motor kid. He rebounds, runs the floor, blocks shots- He also replaces some of the length we lost- for him, right now, his struggle comes with getting comfortable with the system,” Eason said.
Eason summed up Johnson’s performance on Wednesday at Arizona Western, as a stand-out game that showed what he could offer the team in a game where the Bears nearly upset the Matadors on the road. As it became increasing tough to start-up the offense for PC, missed shots proved to be the “fatal flaw” in their game. As multiple misses during the long-stretches of both halves squandered the Bears’ chances.
Saturday’s game against Central Arizona was reminiscent of the game at Glendale earlier in the season. Another slow-start by the Bears saw them quickly down 33-15 in the first ten minutes. Although the Bears showed intensity for the entire 40 minutes, the damage was already done.
“We really couldn’t figure it out early, and then we had already dug ourselves the hole we were in. They dominated us the first ten minutes. We probably played even, maybe even better, than them the last thirty. But when you’re in a hole, 33-13 at one point. Ya know, no matter how ‘even’ you get, you’re just not getting back into the game,” Eason said. “Saturday hurt more than Wednesday... but you just have to hope that you can split the series at home.”
It ultimately boils down to leadership. Who will take control and lead this team with so many key-players sidelined?
Sophomores like Darius Goudeau and Kenny Sutton have been major players in Eason’s scheme. Along with redshirt Freshman Tre Mitchell, who has stepped-up during the absence of Deron Kyle, averaging 15.5 PPG and 8.5 APG over the last two. But the “team effort” has to see more players scoring; especially when your next-two “active” players are averaging 7.2 PPG (Fuentes) and 6.3 PPG (Walcott).
“Nobody else on this team has really established themselves as far as the guys’ who are out. As far as I see, there is 28 points sitting on the board (five or six rebounds, and some steals) per game. If Deron comes back; great, that’s 18 of those points back. But there’s still ten and some change still sitting out there.”
It’s fair to say, despite the hype that the Bears are expected to contend for the ACCAC title. The athletics community is “rolling with the punches” when faced with a crisis such as this one. Eason mentions that it becomes extremely hard when you get use to “Darius here; Kenny there,” then go on and lose three key players.
Eason sees the predicament as “both a positive and a negative.” With players like Tre Mitchell stepping up over the past three games, and Alfredo Fuentes’ post-presence becoming more threatening as the season progresses, Phoenix College is on track to ‘right their wrongs.’
Phoenix College is only, a surprising, three-games out of Playoff contention. If the men can find the mojo to rattle off four- or five-straight against: Pima, Cochise, Glendale, South and Mesa; they would be looking at a swift move into 5th place. Back on track from there, they would merely have to finish the season .500 to qualify for the ACCAC Tournament. That is, in the event, that all-five also lose their respective match-ups.
After starting 5-0 in conference play, certain circumstances may have cost the Bears’ their #1 spot in the tournament, but Eason is not worried about a “home-court advantage.” Especially when Pima and Chandler-Gilbert have clinched, on the road, in the last two years.
“We are trying to get to that 10-win mark. If you look at the last three-years, anyone will ten or more wins will get in. I’ve never been one for home-court advantage. If you got to play at Duke, you might have a problem.”
The Bears host Pima Community College, this Wednesday, at the Bears’ den. Women’s basketball precedes Men’s, at 4:30pm, followed by the men. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30pm. Phoenix College is located at 1202 W. Thomas Road, Phoenix, AZ, 85020.