Powerhouse closes out Marine regional with first title since '99
CAMP KINSER, Okinawa — Marine Corps Base Hawaii ended 3rd Marine Division/Expeditionary Force’s three-year reign in the Marine Forces Pacific Regional Basketball Tournament on Friday, upending the 2000 and 2002 champions 85-75 in the final.
The outcome was far from what even Hawaii coach Greg Mitchell expected after his team, which won five of its six other games by an average 43 points, raced to an early 12-point lead.
“Division always gives us a good game,” said Mitchell, whose team beat Division twice in the tournament, including a 76-61 victory on Tuesday in round-robin play. “Amazing game. I expected it to be a wider margin, but they’re a good team.”
Hawaii won its first title since 1999. Division had won two straight titles, with the 2001 tournament called off because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Division still was somewhat of a surprise finalist. After going 2-4 in round-robin play, the No. 4 seed surged into the title game by upsetting second-seeded 1st Marine Aircraft Wing 88-75 in the semifinals Friday.
“All along, I knew what our team’s abilities were,” Division coach Timothy Toney said. “We didn’t want to peak too early, pace ourselves.”
At first, it looked as if Hawaii would leave Division in the dust. The youthful team, with just one player older than 25, none holding a rank above E-5, used its speedy transition game to take charge early.
After taking a 24-12 lead, Hawaii slowed down and concentrated on making easy baskets.
“When they were up 24-12, at that time, we had missed 10 easy layups,” Toney said.
“I knew those opportunities would still be there. We weren’t worried. And they’re a young team that likes to get out in transition. We tried to slow it down, set up the big guys underneath and play an in-your-face defense.”
Late in the first half, Division twice crept within a point, cutting the gap to 34-33 on David Groth’s two free throws with 1:16 left.
“I thought it was a little spurt of energy that would fizzle out,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t expect them to keep it up.”
Hawaii went on a 9-1 run, going ahead 43-34 on Nathan McQuirter’s rebound tip-in 30 seconds into the second half.
Division refused to quit. Jimmie Lucas’ three-point play cut the deficit to 59-58 with 8:36 left.
“I was amazed that they hung on as long as they did,” Mitchell said. “I was worried. But when I talked to the guys on the floor, they told me, ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to bring it home.’”
Hawaii put the game away with a 12-5 run for a 71-63 lead with 4:30 left.
The final buzzer signaled the end to what Mitchell called a “mission” for his team, which he felt could have won the title last year, were it not for an ill-timed semifinal loss to 3rd Force Service Support Group.
“All this is about what should have happened last year,” he said. “We should have played [Division] last year in the finals. We came here on a mission. We weren’t leaving here without the title.”