In the iS8/Nike Fall Tip-Off Classic semifinal, the Shooting Stars and Connecticut Basketball Club (CBC) left it all on the court. After the ups and downs of substantial surges, two-possession leads and ties, one squad, ultimately, arose victoriously. On Saturday, Shooting Stars pulled out a close one against its out-of-state competition, 99-92, advancing to the championship.
"Basically, CBC is a good team and I had to go more with a veteran crew because the younger guys weren't ready yet," said Shooting Stars head coach Kareem Meminger. "So, I brought my guys that are more like seniors . . ."
Shooting Stars and Connecticut Basketball Club went pound-for-pound in the first quarter, as the New York squad found itself up 22-12. However, despite a roster containing Trashon Burrell (15 points), Kadeem Jack (13 points) and Jermaine Sanders (game-high tie 30 points) in addition to sparkplug Tavon Sledge (game-high tie 30 points), CBC went on a 19-0 run to gain a nine-point advantage, 31-22, by the 5:30 mark of the second quarter.
Soon, thanks to the hard work of Sanders, Burrell and Sledge, the game was tied at 36 with about 1:20 remaining in the half. Still, CBC's Mike Mallory (eight points) netted a basket to give the squad a one-possession lead, which was extended to four points on the next possession, 43-39.
However, Shooting Stars' Sanders and company kept attacking the glass to stay close, bringing the score within one point of CBC, 45-44, by halftime.
Into the third quarter, after a series of turnovers from both teams, Connecticut was still able to obtain a five-point advantage, 59-54. Noticing that CBC had no plans of relinquishing its hold of the rhythm of the game, Sledge began to make things happen on his own. On back-to-back possessions, Sledge drew the foul and drained a pair at the line as well as nailed a 3-pointer from deep.
As a result, Shooting Stars was tied with Connecticut Basketball Club again - this time at 59 - with 1:50 left in the third phase.
Jack scored on a putback to give Shooting Stars a 61-59 advantage. CBC answered to tie, but Shooting Stars quickly regained the lead, 63-61, with three seconds remaining before the fourth quarter.
At the 6:30 mark of the fourth and final phase, Shooting Stars extended the lead to five points, 67-62, on a bucket by Terry Brutus (11 points). Though CBC's big man Andre Drummond (15 points) took it down the middle to bring it within three points, 67-64, Shooting Stars' Burrell stroked a 3-pointer to lift his squad 70-64.
After another bucket by Shooting Stars, Connecticut Basketball Club's Tevon Allen (team-high 18 points) cut it back down to a six-point game, 72-66.
As the final 4:30 ticked down, Sanders, Sledge and Jack were able to widen the margin to 12 points, 86-74.
"Their senior leadership [was] big, they were huge," said Meminger about all the veterans' contributions.
With some help from CBC teammates Phil Gaetano (15 points) and Chris Dunn (12 points), Allen led Connecticut in outscoring the competition 18-10. On a clutch 3-pointer by Allen, the differential was sliced to four points, 96-92, with 35 seconds left in the game.
With 33 seconds on the clock, when Shooting Stars was supposed to inbound the ball, Dunn, using his quick hands, deflected the ball off Sanders and out of bounds to force the possession arrow in favor of CBC. Tasting a repeat performance of other playoff games when last-moment plays upset its opponents, CBC was ready to make something happen. However, Allen, who was the primary reason the team was in position to stage a comeback, turned the ball over on that next possession.
Unlike playoff teams before it, Shooting Stars proved that it would not fall victim to CBC in the game's final seconds. Instead, the New York squad increased its advantage to seven points with five seconds remaining in regulation.
Shooting Stars will tip-off against New Jersey Playaz Club (Seniors) on Sunday in the Championship game at 11 a.m.