The defending champion Hoyas, known for their high scoring ability, turned in a defensive masterpiece Thursday night at the Educational Complex gym, beating the Lakers 72-66 in a battle of the New Breed Basketball Association’s unbeaten teams.
The play of swingman Karl “Mike Jones” John especially stood out in the second half, taking over at the point in the critical moments and refusing to let his team lose.
This game was more or less what the largest crowd to watch a NBBA game on the season expected to see, both teams playing hard and leaving it all out on the floor. Many expected the Lakers to win with their deeper bench and overwhelming size down low.
With the Hoyas still not yet at full strength, and their prolific scorer Darnell “Burger” Hendrickson having one of the worst shooting nights of his career, this team was ripe for the picking. But the Hoyas got some almost unexpectedly huge defensive plays from its three rookie guards that in the end may have been the difference.
The first quarter set the tone for what turned out to mostly be a game of runs. The score was 15-10 for the Lakers midway through the first quarter when the Hoyas closed it out on a 10-5 run to lead 20-17 at the end of the opening period. The Lakers got eight points from Charles Moorehead off the bench while the Hoyas were led by Mike Jones’ seven.
In the second, the Hoyas extended the lead to nine at 32-23, prompting a timeout from Lakers Coach Calvin Burke. His team responded with a 12-5 run when play resumed to trail by two points at 37-35, heading into the locker room at intermission.
The Hoyas started the second half on a 9-2 run highlighted by a long three by Terrence Turbe, and just like that they were back up by nine points at 46-37. The Hoyas would continue their push and would experience the largest lead of the game, by 14 points at 57-43, but the Lakers closed out the period on an 8-0 run to be within six points at 57-51.
Over the first three quarters, Hendrickson could not score even if the basket was as big as the ocean — but when his team needed some big points he was able to drop seven in the fourth to help keep the Lakers at bay. His only three-pointer of the game came with 5:36 left, and at that moment gave the Hoyas an 11-point lead at 64-53, but back charged the Lakers again with a 10-0 run to be within one point of the lead at 64-63 with 2:30 left.
The Hoyas, however, would close out the contest on an 8-3 run to remain undefeated with a 72-66 victory. The Lakers had to start fouling to slow the game as time wound down, but the cool head of Kurt “Mike Jones” John under pressure assured the Hoyas of the victory.
“You see, I always have a plan for every game I coach,” said Hoyas’ Coach Sammy Lee. “I know the key to their team is the play of their point guards, and I was determined to chase them all night, keep them from getting into any kind of rhythm.”
This strategy worked well — a visibly distraught Burke was not pleased at all with the effort put forth by the Laker guards. “I don’t know what was wrong with them; they just did not execute the game plan,” he said.
John led all scorers with a game-high 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds for the Hoyas. His brother Karl “Tennis Man” John netted 12 points while pulling down a game-high 12 rebounds along with four blocks. Hendrickson on an off night scored 10 for the defending champs.
For the Lakers, offensive threat Jerome Nathaniel finished with a team high 19 points but was saddled with foul trouble for most of the night which kept him on the bench at critical moments. The Lakers got a huge lift off the bench from Moorehead who finished with 15 points, but they needed a better effort from their backcourt if they were going to pull this one out.