By Edison Jefford
Ravens will bear an unprecedented optimism in the Next Level Entertainment Basketball Championships when it became clear Sunday night that the Georgetown team is the only City side remaining in the glitzy competition.
This daunting fact became obvious after Victory Valley Royals and Kashif and Shanghai Kings recorded wins against Pistons and Nets respectively at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall in the last set of quarter-final games.
The properly organised Royals continued their smooth move through the competition in a lopsided 70–51 points win over national champions, Pistons while Kings had a scrappy but yet calculated 59–54 victory against Nets.
Dwayne ‘Sugar’ Roberts chalked up the tournament’s leading individual score so far after the Royals’ forward finished with 35 points, with sufficient support from Mark Richards and Ron Beckles, who both scored 12 points.
Pistons’ Alwyn Bellamy scored 12 points while Nevin Grenville had 10 points in the only all–Linden quarterfinal game, which set a suitable atmosphere for the main encounter that brought Linden against Georgetown.
It was the second night in the competition that encouraged Linden teams to dominate the proceedings after Nets aided and abetted Kings since the Georgetown team failed to take advantage of a tired unit with a limping point guard.
Kings came out firing on all cylinders and at one point Nets were heading for a blow–out but the City side held their nerves and fired back, which placed the opposition’s effort under pressure to get ahead convincingly.
Nets, playing from behind, consistently plugged away at Kings’ defence and the wear and tear within a team that had not practiced or played competitive basketball for six or more months became vividly evident.
Kings’ starting guard, Steve Neils Jr. landed big three–point jumpers for Kings in the first half that ended 45–43 in favour of Nets but an ankle strain that had him limping seriously undermined his effort in the second half.
Nets were expected to take advantage of Neils’ injury and the fact that Kings, in the likes of Marvin Hartman and Jason Alonzo, were clearly tired. The long possession of the ball and stagnant rotations vindicated that observation.
Forwards Drumson McCulley and Joel Ifill tried in earnest for Nets with attacking moves on the inside but Alonzo denied most of the attempts with huge block shots while others just did not land in a contest that was void of skill.
Kings took control of the game psychologically and dropped the pace to preserve energy and Nets fell for the ambush, playing to the beat of the opposition’s drums. They paid the ultimate price for the offensive relapse.
Both teams scored in excess of 40 points in the first half with Nets coming out with the advantage but the team allowed Kings to add merely 16 points at their pace and keep them to nine points on the defensive end of the court.
Neils finished with 25 points while Hartman had 15 points for Kings, who cannot risk the thought of such tactics against the offensively potent Ravens, who they will meet in one of two semi–final games Friday night.
Both McCulley and Ifill had nine points each in a fatal performance of Georgetown teams in the 2009 competition where Ravens remains the only City side in the Final Four round with Linden’s leading three clubs still in the hunt.
The feat meant that at least one Linden team is guaranteed a place in the final since Jets, who was first to advance to the Final Four stage, are set to play Royals in a rematch of the Linden League leaders in the second group.
Ravens will meet Kings in another replay of a previous ‘Next Level’ final after they met in the championship game in the inaugural tournament in 2006 where Kings clinched the title in a gruelling overtime contest.
The Linden side reached the final for a second time one year later against Pacesetters but the title was left in the City after Pacesetters won. However, the defending champions,
Pacesetters were the first major casualty this year.
The questions that loom now is whether Ravens can adequately represent the hope of the City or will this championship go down in history because of an all–Linden final that definitely returns the crown to the Mining Town?
The winner of the tournament will take home a whopping $300,000 first place prize even as second place gets $200,000, third place $100,000 and fourth place $50,000 along with other team and individual prizes including trophies.
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