TCA’s Donovan Ryland gets mauled by Nottingham defenders as he drives to the net during the Mercer County Tournament final Feb. 22 in the Cure Insurance Arena, Trenton. John Blaine photo
TCA’s Donovan Ryland gets mauled by Nottingham defenders as he drives to the net during the Mercer County Tournament final Feb. 22 in the Cure Insurance Arena, Trenton. John Blaine photo

By Rich Fisher | Correspondent

Like any basketball coach, Fred Falchi wants to win. But to hear Falchi talk after his Trenton Catholic Academy boys’ basketball team dropped a 60-59 decision to Nottingham in the Mercer County Tournament championship game, he is more concerned with his players laying a foundation for the future.

“Our practices, really all season, haven’t been intense,” Falchi said after his team was beaten on a last-second lay-up in the Feb. 22 finals at Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton. “We go over some things at the end of the game, and it’s just not a lot of focus.”

Photo Gallery:  TCA boys basketball in Mercer County Tournament

More importantly is how that affects his players beyond high school.

“We’re trying to explain to them, forget basketball, this is a life lesson,” the coach continued. “You have to be focused, and you can’t lose your composure. ... I’ve been stressing to my kids all year, I don’t care about winning or losing, it’s about making you guys young men.

“There are just a lot of pressures in life that you have to be able to go out and handle,” he said. “It’s not about basketball. But since they love it so much, I like to use basketball as a teaching thing. … You go for a job and somebody says something to you – you lose your focus and you lose your job.”

Falchi was quick to note that the players “are a great group of kids,” but he felt that wandering minds hurt the second-seeded Iron Mikes against top-seeded Nottingham (23-2).

TCA, which had won four of the previous six MCT championships, appeared to have taken control when a Donovan Ryland lay-up gave the Iron Mikes a 54-47 advantage with under four minutes remaining. But the defending champs allowed Richie Jones, one of the county’s most dangerous 3-point shooters, an immediate open look from behind the arc that Jones buried to keep hopes alive for Nottingham.

The Stars later went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 56-56. EJ Evans responded with a 3-pointer to put the Mikes up by three, but Nottingham got two buckets in the final 30 seconds to cap a furious comeback and win the first MCT title in program history.

Quashawn Lane led TCA with 19 points while Khalif Battle had 16. Asked if the loss could be a wake-up call for the state tournament, Falchi said he was more concerned with it being one in life.

“As long as they learn down the road from it,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. I try to tell them it’s hard to fix everything we didn’t do all year in one practice. They’re good kids; they played hard. It was a lot of little things when you lose a game like that – you just have to focus a little more.”