SOUTH JAMAICA, N.Y. - When one sits through a series of playoff contests, it is expected that the marquee event will sum up the day's action and leave spectators begging for more.
Saturday's action at the iS8/Nike Fall Tip-Off Classic was one such day, where all the highlights and hardwood excitement culminated in the marquee matchup between two New York squads - Juice All-Stars (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and New York Gauchos (Bronx, N.Y.).
Both teams had something to fight for and the on-the-court rivalry spilled into the audience with spectators getting involved in the heated, cross-borough battle. However, only Juice All-Stars, which contain players from Abraham Lincoln High School (Brooklyn, N.Y.), was left standing, downing the competition in a comeback victory, 67-59.
It became clear very soon that what the Gauchos lacked in, Juice had strength in and where Juice lacked, the 'Choz had the upper hand. The Gauchos interior presence was not as strong as that of Juice, but the 'Choz' guard play was much more dynamic than that of the Brooklyn team.
The Gauchos sprang into the lead with a 13-6 lead over Juice in the first quarter, using its backcourt superiority to its advantage. Led by the strong efforts of Tyler Wilson (team-high 20 points, 16 in the first half, 12 in the first quarter), the Bronx team kept the advantage throughout the primary period, gaining an advantage of as much as nine points, 19-10.
Wilson, who paced the 'Choz momentum in the up-tempo game, helped his team attain a 10-point advantage, 28-18, over Juice. But, the Brooklyn squad quickly cut it to three points, 28-25, on a power dunk by Juice's Tafari Whittingham (game-high 23 points, 13 in the first half), in a clean up. Another bucket by Juice brought them within one point, 28-27.
Still, the Gauchos did not want to see its lead get completely overtaken by Juice. The 'Choz went on a 8-2 mini-surge to give them a seven-point cushion, 36-29, advantage. Yet, Juice, not ready to slip too far into a deficit, climbed out of it a bit by cutting the differential to four points, 38-34, on a tip-in by Shaquille Davis.
The score remained 38-34 at halftime.
The third quarter was a stage for the continued uphill struggle Juice experienced to overcome the two-possession deficit against a feisty, guard-oriented Gauchos. The 'Choz were using opportunities garnered from forced Juice turnovers to stay ahead just enough to remain in control.
Ultimately, the Gauchos' advantage grew to as much as eight points, 47-39, on a basket by Tyquan Givens (nine points) at about the 3:30 mark of the third quarter. Instead of lagging behind, Juice fought to make things interesting for the duration of the tertiary period, cutting the deficit to three points, 50-47, with 18 seconds left.
Juice cut the deficit to two points into the fourth quarter, 52-50. The powerful interior play of Whittingham made the difference in the final phase, as he continued to step up big for his Brooklyn, N.Y. squad, pulling down rebounds and cashing them at the rack.
As a result of his inside presence, Whittingham tied the game for the first time in the matchup. And, with the teams knotted at 54, at about the 5:09 mark, Juice had its closest chance to dominate the game. Seeing the contest slowly slipping from its grip, the 'Choz fought to gain a one-possession lead.
The 'Choz' Josh James (seven points) drew a foul while driving to the basket and nailed a pair of free-throw opportunities at the stripe to give his squad a 56-54 lift. But, Whittingham knotted the game at 56. And, on the next Juice possession, the Brooklyn squad took its first lead of the game, 58-56, at the 3:15 mark of the fourth quarter.
As the two teams played the final three minutes with a sense of urgency, both warring for the 'W,' it all came down to the final 1:20 of the game.
With the teams knotted at 59, Juice came alive and surged on an 8-0 run to take the lead and the game away from the Gauchos, which seemed to run out of gas and crack under pressure.
Juice's Ethan Telfair recorded 12 points in the win.
Juice All-Stars played Ben Gordon All-Stars (Mount Vernon H.S.) on Sunday, Oct. 16, in the iS8/Nike Quarterfinals