Flashback Friday is looking back at the top moments from the 2017-18 athletic year each Friday over the summer at the College of Staten Island. It’s time for our Top Three moments, and coming in at No. 3 is a return to the basketball hardwood. In late -February the defending-champion CSI Dolphins won back-to-back CUNYAC titles, this time in upset fashion, knocking off top-seeded Lehman College, 77-75.
#3 – Men’s Basketball – Dolphins shock Lehman, 77-75, to capture CUNYAC Championship
Date: February 23, 2018
Who: CSI Men’s Basketball
Where: Nat Holman Gymnasium – New York, NY
What Happened: After losing two buzzer-beaters to Lehman during the regular season, the Dolphins exacted revenge in a 77-75 win over the top-seeded Lightning in the CUNYAC Final. MVP Christian Taylor hit two big three’s late in the game and free-throws iced the game late. The Dolphins entered the Tournament as the No. 3 seed, coming from behind to beat Brooklyn in the quarterfinals, and then soaring over No. 2 Baruch in the semifinals before the upset in the Final. The win over Lehman broke their 14-game winning streak.
Q&A…with T.J. Tibbs
T.J., to be a rookie Head Coach at CSI and winning a CUNYAC Championship must be some feeling. Tell me a little about how great it was to win a title in your first year? For me, it was a culmination of a season where the kids steadily improved and the coaching staff improved and that’s a great feeling. It was certainly a great way to end the conference season. I was extremely happy especially for our two seniors, Edin Bracic and Ray Savage, and our Assistant Coach Orin McKay, Jr., because it was his first-ever championship. Lehman was a great team, extremely well-coached, so to come out on top is something I will never forget.
Like you mention, to win it against one of the region’s best teams in Lehman, that had beaten you twice in heart-breaking fashion, had to make it extra-special. I think the fact that it was a championship game with so much on the line overrides what happened prior. To be involved in a game with that degree of importance in itself is a great honor and for it to be against Lehman was only fitting. Both regular season meetings could have gone either way, and so to be able to beat a special team like Lehman just made it great for us.
Neither team had full control of the game and as a game like that progresses some people say it favors the underdog team. Did you feel that way? Absolutely not. I think in games like that, it usually favors the more experienced team and with ten seniors and having beaten us twice before, Lehman certainly had the experience. But the one thing I will say is, we had five leaders on the court at all times that never got rattled and never let the situations get the better of them. I don’t think we were the underdog and we didn’t feel that way, especially given how we played them during the regular season.
At what point of the game do you say to yourself that you have a great shot to win the game and that the game becomes yours to lose? Oh man. Every time we may have thought we felt that way, they made a run, so I never really felt that way. I didn’t feel comfortable until (Andrew) Utate missed the shot at the buzzer and I watched the flight of the ball. That’s when I felt we had the game and it was over. It was that type of game.
This was a season with so many heroes, and in the Championship and the Tournament as a whole it was hard to deny Christian Taylor as your MVP. He hit so many clutch shots and touched the ball on really every possession. What can you say about his development this past season? I would say that he absolutely earned everything that he got last season. He is a special talent, but moreso a hard and diligent worker. He loves the game and he listens to the coaching staff and I would say the biggest influence on his development are the players that surrounded him like Edin (Bracic), Ray (Savage), Rob (Rossiter), Ade (Latunji), Stephen Flagg and everyone around him who gave him the confidence to be that guy as a sophomore who could flourish and grow around them. I’m glad he’s on my team the next two years.
T.J., let’s be honest, you were a big focus of attention this season. A former player at CSI, came on in an interim role replacing a legend in Tony Petosa, losing a pair of great seniors coming in, trying to install a new culture and such. What were some of the challenges you had to face coming in? Just making sure that we as a staff prepared the kids as much as possible. When we lost games last season, I knew it was on me not preparing the kids as much as we wanted to. Our guys wanted the kind of season we ended up having and I wanted to do everything in my power to make that happen. I had to make sure that we were trying to adjust and learn from every game no matter a win or a loss.
Coaches do a tremendous job guiding their teams, but in the end the players have to buy in and perform well to be a success. What can you say about the team this past season and their approach to you and your staff and the basketball you wanted to play? They were true professionals. There were a lot of times when they didn’t have to believe in what we were selling. They had won the year before. They could have been satisfied. They could have been selfish if they wanted to be. People don’t often handle change well. It’s very difficult, but they way they approached change was great. Being young men and taking and embracing change head-on the way they did is an example I can use for the rest of my life.
To win a Championship is a great achievement, but now that bar is probably about as high as it’s ever been at CSI and that’s saying a lot. What’s the plan to keep the team among the CUNYAC’s and region’s elite? I think it’s more of the same, just trying to improve every day. We are making sure we are bringing in quality young men and making them better men by the time they leave. We are leaning on the administration for support ,leaning on the community, the CSI community, and every single day improving aspects of our lives and that will lead to success on the floor.
You are a part of a small population of former players to win a championship as a player and a coach at their alma mater. Has it left an impression on you as far as what you have been able to accomplish at CSI? No, because it’s totally separate for me. As a player, I’d like to think I was a servant to the players around me as a point guard, and now as a coach I am a servant to the kids with many aspects of their lives on the court and off. Basketball is a pure team sport. I feel that a lot of people who aren’t directly involved with the team don’t get enough credit – the administration, the student body, the family, the fans – they are all paramount to the program, so it’s hard to focus on myself because I don’t see myself as the only reason for our success.
Finally, what’s the genuine outlook for the coming season. What are you looking forward to most now with your first off-season almost in the books? I’m looking forward to challenging everyone who has a piece of the program. I am looking forward to helping everyone improve and driving past what our ceiling is supposed to be. Last year showed that anything is possible and it also showed that we came up short with what we all ultimately want to do. It’s a great feeling to know that we get another chance soon to do it again. It’s great to look forward to the competition because I’m sure, as always, we will get everyone’s best effort, and that will bring out the best in us.