You’d never guess by looking at the Nassau Community College men’s basketball team’s 15-4 record that the Lions are playing without two of their most dynamic scorers. They are, but don’t expect to hear any excuses from them.
“We’ve had the injury bug a little bit, and I don’t use that as an excuse,” coach A.J. Wynder said. “But it’s tough.”
NCC, ranked fifth in the nation in National Junior College Division III, dropped a non-conference home game Saturday to Community College of Rhode Island, 76-70, losing a second straight game for the first time this season. But the Lions have reason to remain optimistic because they lead Region XV with an 11-1 record. Wynder has challenged his team with a tough non-conference schedule as CCRI plays at the junior college Division II level.
“It’s a little setback that we’ve lost two in a row, but we’re not going to go into panic mode,” Wynder said. “We’re going to stay focused, come together as a unit — coaching staff, players and everybody — and just believe. If we don’t believe, then we can’t achieve.”
NCC won its region last season and advanced to the NJCAA D-III Tournament before losing in the semifinals. The Lions have aspirations of getting there again, but the players are trying not to look ahead.
“We don’t look toward the rankings,” said Kevon Chambers (Elmont), who scored 12 points in the loss. “We just focus on each other as a team. We try to focus on defense and making stops and running our offense. Whatever the case may be in every game we’ve been in so far.”
Chambers has been one of the players whom Wynder has relied on more since the injuries. He came off the bench to start the season, but with starter Cheyenne Nettleton out since the fifth game with a broken wrist and starter Charles Wingate, the team’s leading scorer, out the last five games with a broken foot, the sophomore has moved into the starting lineup.
“He was that guy that was coming in and now he’s had to step up into a more leadership role,” Wynder said, “and he’s done that [for] the most part.”
With the changing lineups because of injuries, the one constant has been the Lions’ relentless defense. NCC entered the game holding opponents to the sixth-lowest shooting percentage (37.9 percent) and seventh-worst three-point percentage (28.4) among D-III junior colleges. The Lions have allowed 60.7 points per game, 21st best in the country.
“Our goal is always to hold a team to 65 points or less,” Wynder said, “and for the most part, we’ve been able to attain that goal throughout the season.”
And regardless of who is in the starting lineup that day, the Lions will be relying on that defensive performance in hopes of repeating as Region XV champions and returning to the national tournament.