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CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — The look on Roy Morris’ face Thursday betrayed the controlled anxiety of a coach whose team was teetering between escaping with a close victory or being sent home with an upsetting defeat.

At last, the buzzer sounded. The 3rd Force Service Support Group could breathe a sigh of relief, having come away with a 76-74 victory over Marine Corps Base Camp Butler in the first round of the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Basketball Tournament playoffs.

“It could have gone either way. It could have been us who was gone,” Morris said.

The close call for third-seeded 3rd Force came against a No. 5 seed it vanquished 81-65 in round-robin play.

But this was the opener of the single-elimination playoffs, a much different animal, when Morris said one element — urgency — increases dramatically.

“[It increases] A whole lot, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, adding his players probably took Base for granted, perhaps looking ahead to a possible Friday semifinal matchup with top-seeded Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The game swayed back and forth, with nine ties and 17 lead changes, until perimeter specialist Robert Cobb hit three of his four three-pointers during an 11-0 run that put 3rd Force ahead to stay 75-70 with 3:20 left.

“It’s win or go home,” Cobb said. “You have to bring your ‘A’ game with you. Everybody’s going to play with more intensity, because if they lose, it’s get on the plane and go home.”

Base players felt they had nothing to lose.

“We came out thinking it was our game to win or lose,” player-coach Michael Colburn said. “Before the game, we made a decision. It was all or nothing. We played with heart. Heart is everything. If you have it, it’s going to show and you’re going to shine. We just came up a little short.”

The other two first-round games were less dramatic.

Okinawa’s 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force, the fourth seed, got past No. 6 Iwakuni Air Station of Japan 58-46, and No. 2 seed 1st Marine Aircraft Wing routed No. 7 U.S. Naval Hospital Camp Lester 96-53.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii earned a bye as the top seed, but coaches Garland Woodard and Greg Mitchell didn’t take a day off, spending time in the gym checking out the opposition.

“Some people want to play the easier teams” in the early round of the playoffs, Woodard said. But aside from Hospital, “there are no easy teams once the playoffs start.”

Still, Woodard appears more concerned about his club’s consistency.

“Winning is easy,” he said. “I just worry about the bad game. We never change. We play the same way every game. Some people early in the week take the attitude, ‘Oh, it’s just a round-robin game.’ Well, if you do that, I don’t think you can step up your game for the playoffs.”

They’ll only get one more crack at it, with the championship on the line Friday.

“Tomorrow will tell how badly everybody wants it,” he said.

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