Former Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez speaks about March Madness.
A tremendous season came to an end in the NCAA Division II East Regional championship for the Bloomfield College men’s basketball team.
Coach Gerald Holmes guided the Bears to a 24-8 record. This was the eighth time in Bloomfield’s history that the team had qualified for the East Regional, and the third time that BC played for the championship.
Bloomfield won a pair of exciting games at the NCAA tournament. The tourney was hosted by the top seed, Le Moyne College of Syracuse, N.Y. The Bears, seeded seventh, defeated second-seeded and defending champion St. Thomas Aquinas, 91-78, in the first round March 10. A day later, BC dominated sixth-seeded Merrimack of Massachusetts,109-91, moving Bloomfield into the championship game March 13 against Le Moyne.
There, Bloomfield was defeated, 75-59, in a game much closer than the score indicated. Bloomfield had cut the deficit to 54-53 with 5:08 left in the game.
“We were there,” said Holmes, in his office at Bloomfield College on March 16, where he also serves as an assistant athletic director. “It went down to the wire. Le Moyne was really good. They were physical and played tough defense. Our guys played well, too.”
Bloomfield won the East Region title in 2011, reaching the Elite 8, which was played in Springfield, Mass. A year later, the Bears were defeated in the regional final. Bloomfield has been seeded seventh four times in the regional and each time won its first-round game.
The path to the East Region this year was a little more difficult. The Bears play in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) and were a favorite to win the postseason tourney for the automatic bid to the regions. But Bloomfield was upset in the first round of the CACC Tournament by the University of the Sciences.
“We didn’t play well that night, but give USP credit, too,” said Holmes. “They played better. At that point, our only option was to get an at-large bid to the tournament, and I didn’t know if we’d get it. But once we did, I thought our guys took advantage of the opportunity.”
It was a big year for Holmes, who won his 300th career game at Bloomfield in the regional win over St. Thomas Aquinas. Holmes was also named the CACC’s Coach of the Year for the third time in his career. He’s been head coach at BC for 16 years.
“I’m happy with the direction of the program,” said Holmes, who grew up in South Orange and currently resides in West Orange. “I can’t say when I was named head coach that I had a long-term vision of where I wanted to see the program. I want our players to get better, do well in school and use this toward a successful life after college. That’s always been my vision for these players.”
Bloomfield was led this season by senior Nick Davidson, a first-team All-CACC player. Keith Washington, a junior, was a second-team All-CACC player and Safee Abdus-Sabur, also a junior, was selected to the third team.
“We’ll have Keith and Safee back next year,” said Holmes of what will be an All-Conference back court. “We lose some talented seniors, but I’m happy with the guys returning, as well as some of our recruits.”
Holmes, a graduate of NJIT, also noted the play of seniors Marcus Fleming, Rakwan Kelly and Ignacio Diez and sophomore Matt Lajeunesse.
“I’m proud of the way NCAA, Division II basketball is being played,” said Holmes. “There’s a lot of talent at this level.”
Bloomfield has been a Division II school since Holmes became head coach in 2002. Prior to that, the program competed in the NAIA. As a Division II school, the program can offer athletic scholarship money to a prospective player.
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Though the season is over, Bloomfield will soon begin training for next season.
“We have eight returning players, plus one who didn’t play this year, but will next season,” said Holmes. “We’ll be able to get some work in soon.”
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