Comebacks the order of the day at MLK tournament
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Just when all seemed lost for the Queens, Dynasty and the Kadena Falcons, they turned the playoffs into their stage and transformed the Foster Field House into Comeback City.
The three squads helped Okinawa reign, if only for one night, on Day 4 of the Martin Luther King Invitational Basketball Tournament:
¶ The Queens fell behind by seven points at the start of the second half before rallying past the Osan Defenders of Korea 64-57 in the women’s winner’s bracket final, going up to stay 54-51 on Chrystal Smith’s three-pointer with 2:33 left. The Queens reached Monday’s women’s final.
¶ Kadena found itself staring up at a 15-7 deficit early in its men’s winner’s semifinal with Osan, before the Falcons used a 19-3 second-half run and steadily pulled away for a 78-57 triumph.
¶ The biggest comeback of all was by Dynasty, last year’s men’s champion. Trailing Korea’s Yongsan Runnin’ Rebels 46-29 in the first half, Dynasty roared back with a 27-9 run. Norman Capers’ basket with 2:22 left gave Dynasty a lead it would keep on the way to an 86-78 victory.
“The Dynasty ain’t dead yet!” said guard George Baez, who scored 21 points to pace Dynasty’s come-from-behind effort.
It began much like a 59-45 loss to Osan in round-robin play the day before, when turnovers and missed layups combined to doom Dynasty.
This time, after falling behind by 17 points, “we played the type of ball we were capable of playing,” Capers said. “We started off slowly, but we buckled down on defense, hit the easy shots and played hard-nosed ball.”
Dynasty held the Runnin’ Rebels, who live and die by the three-point shot, to five long-distance baskets.
“The effort was a lot more intense than it was against Osan,” Capers said.
For their part, the Defenders opened strongly against the Falcons, leading 39-32 at halftime. But Kadena whittled at the lead with a 13-2 burst to open the second half. Mike Walters hit a three-pointer from the right side with 13:40 left to trigger a 19-3 run.
The Falcons led by as many as 23 down the stretch in handing the Defenders just their second loss in 12 regular-season games in Korea and four tournaments.
In the Queens’ case, Smith said, it was a matter of playing their game instead of the other team’s. With starting pivot Vernita Handsborough down with an ankle injury and Trancye Foster on the bench in foul trouble, the Queens were missing what Smith calls their key element: quickness.
“We didn’t realize how much it [not having them] affected us,” she said. “Every time we get behind like that, we start playing the other team’s game. We had to play our game, calm down, play defense, and we did.”
The Queens awaited the survivor of the women’s loser’s bracket in Monday’s final. Meanwhile, Kadena and Dynasty faced each other Monday morning with a berth in the men’s championship on the line.
Capers refused to get caught looking too far ahead.
“We’re looking to the next game,” he said. “Whoever we play, we’ll play the same as we did tonight.”
Smith left no doubt as to what the Queens’ goals were. Already winners of last month’s Osan Pacificwide Invitational, she said her team is focused on making it two straight major titles in a month.
“Our focus is to come to these tournaments to take everything,” she said. “Whoever we play, we have to bring it. We’re the hunted. But we’re definitely looking ahead to 1 p.m. tomorrow.”
It was not a good day for the Kadena High boys and girls squads, who exited the playoffs Sunday with two losses each — but not before the girls team put a major scare into Osan’s women, losing by just 46-43.
Nicole Bowman’s basket with 18 seconds left helped the Defenders avert a first-round upset. The Panthers missed three layups with half a minute to go, then Katie LaGrave came up just short of a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer. Kadena High was eliminated later 60-53 by the Yokota Raiders.
“We made some strides over the weekend,” coach Ken Hudson said. “We just need to learn how to finish.”
The Panthers’ boys didn’t come close in either of their losses, 89-65 to Okinawa’s Torii Army Knights and 93-68 to the U.S. Naval Hospital Camp Lester Admirals, who themselves made the playoffs for the first time.
“We can’t compete inside against these bigger and stronger guys,” coach Jim Shulson said. “But every game, we got better and better.”