Anthony Minott, Freelance Writer
'Fighting spirit' gave us the title - Brown
Coach of Urban Knights, Oneil Brown, believes his team's never-say-die attitude gave them the title of top Jamaican basketball club.
With seven minutes left in the final quarter, Urban Knights overcame a nine-point deficit to score a nail-biting 71-69 victory over two-time defending champions Tivoli Gardens Wizards, in Game Three of their best-of-three Flow National Basketball League (NBL) final at the National Arena on Tuesday night.
This was Urban Knights' fourth national title and the first under new coach Brown.
"We came here tonight with a defensive strategy, the same one Tivoli used against us when they took Game Two on Sunday. At one point we didn't have any answer for Tivoli's key man, (Omar) Barnes, but I told the players to keep fighting and we managed to force a few turnovers which turned into points, and this was the difference in the match," he said.
Tivoli were sitting pretty in the fourth quarter at 64-55 as Barnes and Andy Smith powered their offence. Barnes with a game-high 20 points, scored to give his team a 59-55 lead and assisted on Smith's three-pointer. Then Smith, who had 11 points in the game, scored another bucket which pushed the lead to a game-high nine points and it looked as if the title would stay with Tivoli.
However, a number of sloppy offensive plays and stubborn Knights defending saw the lead dwindle, as the Knights capitalised on Tivoli's woes and went on a decisive 10-0 run. Urban Knights' captain, Fernando Young, who had a team high 18 points, shot a three-pointer and gave his team a one-point advantage at 65-64 and they never looked back.
The Knights won Game One 78-63, while Tivoli forced Game Three after a close 61-58 win over their rivals in Game Two last Sunday. A highlight of the final was in the second quarter when Barnes, a national invitee, dribbled from his side of the court and went coast to coast, after appearing as if he was going up for a regulation lay-up, but extended at the last minute and dunked powerfully over his opponents, which created quite an uproar in the venue, and on the Tivoli bench.
The teams were tied 37-37 at half-time, while Wizards led 57-54 after three quarters.
Edward 'Ted' Marshall, Tivoli's coach, was disappointed.
"We made some critical turnovers in the fourth quarter and they capitalised on our mistakes and scored. We only scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and we lost, that's the way basketball goes," he said.
Young, the Knights captain, had this to say: "I have to hand it to my teammates; they really stepped up the defence in the fourth quarter as we switched from a 1-3-1 defence to a 2-3 defence and this forced them (Tivoli) to take outside shots, and we knew they couldn't make those shots consistently and we forced a few turnovers which gave us a couple of fastbreak points, and the rest his history."
He added: "Tivoli won back-to-back titles, Urban Knights were due one."