Wing wins long-sought Marine regional title
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – This time, Kwan Cochrane, Thomas Johnson and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing would not be denied.
Stymied in their previous four tries at a Marine Corps Far East Regional Men’s Basketball Tournament title, the two heated up in the second half of Friday’s final, squelching a late rally and pacing Wing to a 90-77 victory over 3rd Marine Logistics Group.
“Five long years,” Cochrane said. “We never really had a solid nucleus. We finally came together as a team and brought it home.”
While Cochrane and Johnson waited five years for their chance at a gold medal, Wing ended a 12-year wait since its last tournament title, won on the same Foster Field House Court 2 in 1995. Wing reached the 2004 championship, but lost to Marine Corps Base Camp Butler.
From the start of Friday’s championship game, each team went on scoring sprees. Wing surged ahead by double-digit margins, only to have 3rd MLG get within striking distance. Then the teams would repeat the process.
Tournament MVP Floyd Spears gave Wing a 16-7 lead with a rebound layup 5:20 into the first half, but Alex Miller’s left-side jumper cut it to 23-22 with 9:06 left in the period.
After Wing opened a 47-37 margin on Johnson’s three-pointer from the left side, 3rd MLG went on a 17-5 run, going ahead for the only time in the game on Willie Carr’s shot from the lane with 12 minutes left.
Then Johnson took over, scoring three straight threes among the five he hit in the second half and six in the game. He finished with 23 points, 16 in the second half.
“We weren’t going to let this slip away,” Johnson said. “It took me five years, I saw it slipping away so I had to step up and do what I had to do to win the championship.”
Third MLG’s defense wasn’t matching up properly on Johnson and “he took advantage of it,” said seven-time All-Marine guard Barry Celestine of 3rd MLG. “They were stepping off him and letting him shoot. You can’t let him do that. That was the difference in the game.”
3rd MLG kept it close until Cochrane drove for a layup that gave Wing a 79-72 lead with 2:08 left. Cochrane and Spears each had 16 points. Dempsey Tomblin led five 3rd MLG players in double figures with 13.
Spears, a staff sergeant from High Point, N.C., headlines a group of seven players from the tournament selected to attend the All-Marine tryout camp Oct. 7-31 at Cherry Point Air Station, N.C.
The seven (see list below) will vie for spots on the All-Marine team scheduled to play in the All-Armed Forces Tournament Nov. 1-9 at Cherry Point.