Tyler Heffernan | Sea Devil Journalist
WILMINGTON, N.C. - Ryan Mantlo leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and spoke about Hutchinson, Kan.—the host city of the NJCAA National Tournament—as a "when" scenario, instead of an "if." One day before his Cape Fear Community College men's basketball team starts its postseason run, he was relaxed.
The Sea Devils finished the regular season with a 14-16 record and earned a first round Region 10 tournament game against Aiken Technical College, a team that beat the Sea Devils twice this year. But, Mantlo was optimistic knowing CFCC survived roster shuffling, conference parity and the highest expectations he's ever had as a coach after the Sea Devils finished eighth in the country in the previous season's national championships.
The Sea Devils have won three of their past four games, and momentum is the best thing to pack on a road trip. Mantlo had a reason to be pleased.
Although entering the conference tournament as a No. 5 seed wasn't the plan at the start of the year, the Sea Devils can refer to history as an indication that winning from their position can be done. "My first time we won it, we were the five seed," Mantlo said, referring to the 2009 championships played at Brunswick Community College. "Brunswick was the No. 1. It's laid out the same way. If that team can do it, this team is 10 times more talented."
CFCC won't show up at Bridges Arena and expect a game on Saturday. Thursday's date with Aiken Tech stands in its way. In the two games against the Knights, Jan. 21 and Feb. 11, CFCC's Emmanuel Andrews averaged 18 points and Faronte Drakeford added 12.5 points—both right at their season averages. Back-up big man Randell Jones tallied seven rebounds in both contests.
Kenneth Funderbunk is another source of offense for the Knights. A sizeable wing at 6-foot-4-inches tall, he averages just over 10 points per game. His size over CFCC's smaller backcourt helped him notch 21 and 14 points, respectively.
"Our biggest key is for somebody to step up in that third role with Rakeem and Emmanuel, whether it be EJ (Williams), Terrance (Hampton) or Tony (Menton)," he said. "If we have a great performance from one of those three in this tournament, I think we win it, I really do."
Williams, sitting within earshot of Mantlo's comments, said he was ready for the challenge. "That's why I was brought here," the Raleigh native said. "I've been battling through injuries all season, but you can't cry about that now when it's win or go home."
Region 10 Tournament Schedule - All games played at Bridges Arena
- No. 3 USC Salkehatchie vs. No. 6 Brunswick Community College, 1 p.m.
- No. 2 Clinton Junior College vs. No. 7 USC Sumter, 3 p.m.
- No. 4 Aiken Technical College vs. No. 5 Cape Fear Community College, 5:30 p.m.
- No. 1 Spartanburg Methodist College vs. No. 8 Denmark Technical College, 7:30 p.m.
- No. 3/6 winner vs. No. 2/7 winner, 5 p.m.