To be the best, you have to beat the best.
The Sean Bell All-Stars have taken that slogan to the bank, and put their money where their mouths are thus far.
But in every round of playoff action, games have gotten closer and on Sunday, Sports University had SBA on the edge of a cliff.
"The whole time I was (dribbling up the court in the final possession of regulation) I was saying to myself, 'this game will live or die with me'", said Sean Bell All-Stars'Jelan Kendrick. "Either I was going to get us killed or I was going to bring us up." With Sean Bell All-Stars down 86-83 with 5 seconds left in regulation, Kendrick dribbled through Sports U's defense untouched to nail a three point prayer as time expired, allowing the Sean Bell All-Stars -who were without PG Ryan Harrow and PF Dominique Ferguson for this weekend's action- to close out the hair-raising slug fest in the extra session (101-94) and secure a spot in the IS8 semifinals.
Despite the drubbings that SBA handed out during pool play, Sports U didn't show any signs of fear whatsoever for their duel with the newly dubbed "team to beat". Xavier Munford and Elijah Carter made their lack of fear loud and clear, as the back court duo attacked the defense with an assortment of step back jumpers and scoop lay-ups to secure a hot 11-3 start. SBA overcame early struggles with turnovers and made a climb when Mike Parker nailed back to back buckets to close the gap to five, and it wouldn't be long before a Bryon Allen trey would knot the game at 13.
Both teams would experiment with different zone defenses and man to man sets, keeping things relatively even and going tit for tat. Most of the momentum went Sports U's way in the second quarter, but they never led by more than a deuce. In fact, the opportunity to expand on their lead was blown by shaky free throw shooting -Sports U shot 9-17 in the first half- and they held a 31-29 lead at halftime.
"Normally this game would've been a blow out by now", a spectator said, but Sports U proved to be a perfect match and they proved it in the third quarter. Drastic improvements in the free throw shooting department showed when big man Derrick Williams shot a perfect 10-10 in the third period (the team shot 16-16 in the second half) and Munford began to prepare some home cooking on SBA. The 6'2 guard started his roll with an alley-oop lay-in off of a Carter assist, and went on to have his way with the SBA's defense. A pretty spin move ended his flurry and gave Sports U a 6 point lead, their biggest of the game (57-51). But with the gym heating up as the third quarter progressed, the 6'3 Allen decided he would answer Munford with a magic show of his own, and his response almost single-handedly kept SBA alive. After a three point blizzard, a series of pretty drives and some free throws, Allen had poured on a blistering 17 point third quarter performance. For good measure, he made it 19 third quarter points with a vicious poster-worthy dunk on a Sports U defender's head, and simultaneously gave SBA a 60-59 lead going into the fourth.
Munford and Carter never lost focus though, and they battled with Parker and Melvin Jim to keep the game in a squeeze. Allen sounded off with a huge three late in the game to give SBA an 81-78 lead, but Carter came right back down and returned the gesture with 1:20 left. Jim went 1-2 at the line to give SBA an 82-81 edge, but a Munford triple and a pair of crucial free throws from Carter gave Sports U an 86-83 lead and time was running out for the highly regarded SBA unit. To compound matters, two missed free throws from Jim and a turnover from Kendrick foiled SBA's chances at getting ahead, and they had five seconds left to decide if they would live to play another day.
"We came into this gym with a nice little spunk, and we're the team to beat", said Kendrick. "We're the best, that's fact. We were missing some instrumental pieces today, but we still have to play Sean Bell All-Star basketball, no matter who shows up. Somebody is gonna step up when the time comes." Kendrick answered his own call with the buzzer beater that sent the gym into a frenzy and forced overtime, where SBA outscored Sports U, 15-8, and stamped their ticket to face the Panthers next Saturday at 12:30 PM.
Bryon Allen's 19 point third quarter made for the majority of his game high 29 points for Sean Bell All-Stars. Jelan Kendrick added 19 points and Mike Parker, 13. Xavier Munford and Elijah Carter scored 27 points each to lead Sports University. Derrick Williams added 19 points.
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