BRONX, NEW YORK -- Charlie Villanueva's two-handed slam dunk with four seconds left in regulation lifted the Long Island Panthers to a hard-fought 81-80 victory over the Gauchos in a semifinal matchup of the Golden Hoops Classic held outdoors at Rucker Park.
The Gauchos had taken the lead with 12 seconds left when Levi Levine hit two free throws. This gave the Gauchos an 80-79 lead. But penetration by the Panthers' guards led to a short dish pass to Villanueva, who then elevated and dunked with just four ticks left. The Gauchos inbounded but the ball was knocked away and stolen as time expired.
The first quarter started off rough for the Panthers as Villanueva and Curtis Sumpter arrived late due to traffic problems in getting from Brooklyn to the Bronx. Both players arrived with about five minutes left in the first quarter. By the time they were dressed and ready to go, the Panthers trailed by 10 points.
But slowly the Panthers edged back into the game. By the time the first quarter was over, Gary Charles' team had forged a 20-20 tie. By the time the half arrived, the Panthers held a 44-37 lead. Taquan Dean played well from the two slot while Marvin McCullough played a solid floor game throughout this contest. (More on Dean and McCullough in the East section of our site).
Dean, who finished with 19 points, showed nice range on his jumper also in the second half. His shooting helped Long Island to a 66-63 lead after three quarters.
The fourth quarter stayed close throughout. McCullough hit some key shots to keep the Panthers close while Gauchos guard Shawn Wynn had a big game. He scored 20 points to lead his team.
Villanueva finished with a game-high 22 points while Lamont Hamilton had 10 for the winners. Levi Levine added 17 points for the Gauchos.
The Panthers will now face the New Jersey Roadrunners in tonight's final, slated to begin at 8:30 PM.