Leave it to the New York Panthers to put a blemish on a team that had a perfect record.
The Sean Bell All-Stars were the only squad to go 4-0 throughout pool play to make it this deep into the iS8/Nike Spring H.S. Classic playoffs. However, despite knocking off two opponents to advance to Semifinal Saturday, the loaded Sean Bell All-Stars were not fully-equipped with enough guns to stay perfect.
Throughout the matchup, both the Panthers and Sean Bell were evenly matched, but no one could come up with a solution to the "Numbers""problem Jeffrey Short (27 points) put on the hardwood. As a result, the Panthers iced Sean Bell All-Stars, who were unproductive at the line down the stretch, with an 88-84 victory in overtime.
"Like I told people before, it's not about just getting talent, you have to have the right chemistry," said Panthers head coach Gary Charles. "I always felt that we were going to beat them, we just needed to have the right mix. I thought it was a tremendous game because they were a tremendously talented team.""
Even with the addition of Angel Nunez to the lineup, the Sean Bell All-Stars were not able to hold on to the 20-10 lead it held at the close of the first quarter. The Panthers, led by the inside action of Short, went on a mini 9-2 surge in the second half to stay within striking distance. However, buckets by Jordan Laguerre (five points) and Melvin Ejam (10 points) gave Sean Bell a nice eight-point cushion 27-19.
Short became the do-it-all guy, single-handedly keeping his squad in the game with acrobatic moves to the cylinder, 3-pointers and great usage of the rim and glass for fortuitous bounces. Teammate, Ryan Rhoomes (19 points) got in on the action, tying the game at 33 with 2:18 left in the second quarter.
"I don't think people realized how good Jeff Short was and I always felt like that was going to be a key to this whole tournament,""said Charles. "That's why we brought him in at the end. And I thought that at the end that he was going to be the positive element that people weren't going to be prepared for.""
J.J. Moore (17 points) added some major contributions nailing a 3-pointer and a deuce to give the Panthers its first lead since the Long Island team led 2-0 in the first quarter, 38-37. Eric Ferguson (28 points) and teammate Kyle Cain (10 points) each netted a bucket to regain the lead before the close of the first half.
Sean Bell All-Stars' Ferguson steadied the ship for his squad with 17 first-half points.
Sean Bell led 41-38 at the break.
Panthers' Nemaja Djurisic (14 points) nailed a trey at the start of the third quarter to tie the game at 41. But, a 3-pointer from Jelan Kendrick (18 points) put the Sean Bell All-Stars back on top 44-41. Still, Sean Bell could not handle the effects of the intense Panthers team.
By the six-minute mark of the period, the Panthers had recaptured the lead, 50-49, and extended the margin to seven points, 58-51. Yet, Sean Bell was not ready to pack it up. With 1:33 on the clock, the Sean Bell All-Stars stole the lead back with a one-point advantage, 61-60.
The game was tied 62-all at the close of the third quarter.
After staying close during the fourth quarter, the Panthers pulled away with a five-point lead, 71-66, with about three minutes left in the period. Still, Ferguson and company pulled in to close the gap, 72-71. And, then, later, Ferguson took the lead for Sean Bell, 73-72.
Moore, ultimately, tied the game for the Panthers at 75-all with 54 seconds. Later, Moore had the last possession as time ticked away, but could not execute a play to win it in regulation.
The Panthers outscored the Sean Bell All-Stars 11-9 in overtime. Ultimately, down the stretch, bad foul shooting plagued the Sean Bell All-Stars, who were sent home with a near-perfect record.
New Heights will face the New York Panthers on Sunday at 11 a.m. in the iS8/Nike Championship game. The contest will be a rematch of the Fall iS8/Nike 2009 chip game where New Heights, ultimately, pulled out the upset victory over, then-defending Spring 2009 champs, the N.Y. Panthers.
"If we were going to have to play someone, I wanted it to be them,""said Charles. "They beat us last Fall in the championship and I want it back. Like Kobe wants Boston, I wanted New Heights. They are a very well-coached team. Kimani [Young] is a great coach, well-organized with chemistry. They always seem to hit the shots, the big shots when they need to hit the shot. So, to me, if you want to win this, you have to go through the champs and, as far as I'm concerned, they're the champs from last Fall so I want them back.""
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