D-I boys championship
Panthers rally to stay on the throne
By GREGORY BROOME | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 22, 2014
WIESBADEN, Germany – The Patch Panthers won their second straight DODDS-Europe Division I boys basketball championship Saturday, knocking off the Wiesbaden Warriors 60-56 in a classic title-game showdown and denying the hometown crowd the second championship celebration it craved.
The Patch win came immediately after the Wiesbaden girls pounded the Panthers, producing a split in the high-stakes version of the conventional DODDS girls-boys hoops doubleheader.
The teams entered the final minute tied, and it was played with the same fervor as the preceding 31. Patch's Brendan Jones drove, drew a foul and made two free throws. The Warriors got multiple shots at a go-ahead three-pointer, missing each but regaining possession and a fresh chance.
Patch point guard CeJay Ferguson finally clinched the title, poking the ball loose and rushing downcourt for a layup and the game’s final two points just before time expired.
The participants were immediately aware of the magnitude of the game they’d just played.
“That had to be the most fun I’ve had in my life,” Jones said. “It was just amazing. I’ll never have an experience like this again.”
Teammate John Robinson agreed.
“For a championship game, this was the perfect game,” Robinson said. “Down to the wire.”
Even the runners-up – it seems unfair to call them losers – appreciated the level of competition they’d just attained.
“They’re just a great bunch of guys, you know. And so are we,” Wiesbaden center CJ Pridgen said. “We tried to do our best. They just came out on top this time.”
After an occasionally tedious championship Saturday marked by lopsided or low-scoring title games, the two large-school powers stormed the court with a rejuvenating display of back-and-forth offensive aptitude.
Andrew Murray hit a mid-range jumper and Kelsey Thomas assisted a Darren Williams layup for two quick Wiesbaden buckets. Patch wing John Robinson countered with a jumper. Warrior speedster Anthony Little streaked in for a layup and Thomas found Pridgen for a close-range hoop, which Panther sharpshooter Brendan Jones answered with a high-arcing three-pointer. Another Pridgen score prompted a Patch timeout, just three minutes and 19 seconds into the game, to discuss its 10-5 deficit.
The teams settled into a rhythm after the rapid-fire early exchange, the Warriors striving to stretch their lead and the Panthers trying to chip away. The Warriors tugged harder, taking a 22-16 lead through one quarter and a 39-29 lead at the half.
The proud champions wouldn’t be put away so easily. The Panthers had the lead down to four in under two minutes of second-half action, and a Jones layup cut the lead to 45-43 with three minutes to play. The Warriors burned a timeout of their own to stall the momentum.
It didn’t work, as a quick basket by Ferguson tied the score. Even a botched dunk attempt couldn’t slow the suddenly charmed Panthers; Robinson tracked down and stole the ball after missing his breakaway slam attempt and took off again, this time laying it off the glass for a two-point Panther lead the visitors took into the fourth quarter.
With each team having made its run, the game locked into a stirring, intense duel, with members of both teams sliding after loose balls, challenging and blocking shots at the rim, battling for offensive rebounds and tying up opponents for jump balls. Fittingly, the game’s two-minute mark arrived with the teams deadlocked at 56, as did the one-minute mark soon after.
Ultimately, the Panthers won again at the dangerous game they’d played in several tournament games: falling behind at halftime, making clever adjustments and scraping out a win. That habit almost cost them against the deep and dangerous Warriors, the best of what Jones called the “thick competition” attempting to spoil Patch’s repeat championship bid.
“We just kept our heads up and played through it,” Jones said. “It’s never won in the first half.”
Patch coach Brad Rehwaldt enjoyed every minute of his Panthers’ nerve-wracking title run.
“When you’re way ahead or way behind, it’s no fun at all,” Rehwaldt said. “You do the best you can and hope the kids come through. They sure did today.”
Jones scored 17 points to lead the Panthers, while Robinson added 12 and Ferguson 10. Williams matched Jones’ game-high with 17 for Wiesbaden; Pridgen had 14 and Thomas chipped in 13.
The Patch Panthers celebrate the defense of their Division I title after defeating Wiesbaden 60-56 at the DODDS-Europe basketball championships in Wiesbaden, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES