Tonawanda News

February 22, 2014

Wildcats cap off dream season with ECC title

By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News —

AMHERST — It was a storybook ending. And this year's Daemen men's basketball team earned it.

After a hard-fought, 75-66 win over Bridgeport on Saturday, the Wildcats learned that rival Roberts Wesleyan did them a favor by knocking off Dowling College at the same time in Rochester, securing the East Coast Conference regular season title for Daemen.

The Wildcats (20-6, 17-3 ECC) finished the regular reason on a 13-game win streak and extended their home win streak to an astounding 35 games, the second longest active streak in the country.

Nothing was pretty about the Wildcats' performance Saturday. They shot 43 percent from the field and missed 15 free throws, but the win signified what's made this group so special the past four seasons: teamwork.

Standout big man Gerald Beverly was hounded every minute he was on the floor and was forced to work hard on both ends to score and rebound. At the end of regulation it seemed as if the junior had struggled a bit in the game, but a glance at the box score and his 15 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks were a reminder of his tremendous impact in every game that he plays.

The senior backcourt of Mark Coppola and Casey Sheehan did what they do best. Coppola (five points/seven assists) put his team in a position to win and Sheehan put the ball in the basket, leading the Wildcats with 24 points, 16 coming in the second half after a slow start.

Kadeem Johnson and Uchechi Ogbonna scrapped as usual. Johnson scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, and his toughness set the tone in a slugfest of a game. Ogbonna, dealing with a lingering knee injury, gutted out 21 minutes less than 24 hours after playing 36 minutes in a must-win against Dowling the night before. 

Off the bench, Jordan Greene hit a big 3-pointer down the stretch and NT's Aaron Davis provided a spark with his aggressiveness on the defensive end in his 15 minutes.

It was a team win by a group of players that Daemen head coach Don Silveri called "the greatest team I've ever coached."

"I have been saying it all year long — this is a special group of guys. I can throw all the cliches out there, but these guys, they all fit," he said.

Wildcats associate head coach Mike Miranto used three words to describe his feelings after the game.

"Elation, jubilation, sadness. These five seniors, they mean the world to this program and me personally. Sad that they'll never play on this court again but couldn't ask for a better way to send them off," Miranto said.

Silveri was quick to give credit to Miranto after the game, calling him the unsung hero for the Wildcats. In his fourth year at Daemen, Miranto, a North Tonawanda native, has become the perfect compliment to Silveri on the Wildcat bench.

"You talk about unsung heros. Let me tell you something. Mike Miranto is the unsung hero of this team, because I couldn't ask for a better partner," Silveri said. "He's the associate head coach for a reason. I couldn't ask for a better assistant. I know the head coach gets all the credit, but we wouldn't be where we are without him."

I've seen almost every game at Lumsden Gymnasium over the past four seasons. This group of seniors has won 81 games in that time period, averaging a little over 20 wins per season.

They have a bit of everything. A dominant big man, an entertaining playmaker, a floor general and facilitator, a hard-nosed leader and a number of role players that always seem to figure out a way to impact the game.

This Daemen basketball team is one of the best teams I've ever seen play in Western New York. It's been a fun ride; a fun story to tell.

Follow @tonanewssports and sports editor @MattParrino on Twitter for complete high school sports coverage.