Caledonia Clippers are one win away from being crowned men's champion of the National Basketball Federation of T&T (NBFTT) National Invitational Championships (NIC) after edging Stories of Success (SOS) Basketball Academy, 77-76 on Thursday night at the Maloney Indoor Sport Arena.
With 0.1 seconds on the clock, guard Adrian Joseph stepped up and knocked down one of two free throws to see the North Zone champion to a, 1-0 lead in the best-in-three series final against the reigining East winner.
The SOS contingent struggled offensively from the tip-off while Clippers jumped out with an early lead through the efforts of centre and captain Miguel Williams.
With a significantly altered line-up due to the absence of key starters Ahkeem "Fato" Boyd and Moriba De Freitas, SOS quietly crept pass its rivals heading into the second quarter with a seven-point lead (22-15).
The SOS outfit, known for their fast-pace game, adjusted their approach displaying more patience and self-control on the offensive end while turning up the heat defensively giving them a 14-point cushion at the end of the second period.
SOS continued to dominate as the game unfolded, until Joseph returned to the floor midway through the third period and shouldered the Clippers’ offense cutting the deficit to single digits during the quarter. However, with an assertive dunk and formidable shooting by youth phenomenon Ahkeel "Smally" Boyd, SOS maintained a double-digit lead (66-56) going into the last period.
In the fourth quarter, SOS started without its main contributor Boyd as he slipped into foul trouble late in the third. In the absence of Boyd’s on-court presence, Kemrick Julien stepped in and maintained the intensity of the nail-biting affair.
With a few seconds remaining, Jelani Valley of SOS sunk two crucial free-throws to give his team a two-point lead (76-74) putting the seasoned Clippers under added pressure. In the height of the compressing atmosphere, Clippers depended on the heroics of Joseph who knocked down a tough fade-away jumper over two defenders in the deep corner to even the scores 76-76 with 16.3 seconds remaining.
Player/coach Kern George made a last haul from three-point range to try and steal a win over Caledonia in the dying seconds of the game. With the rebound secured by Joseph with time still on the clock, Valley committed an unexpected foul on Joseph to the shock of all patrons, allowing Clippers another free-throw opportunity with 0.1 seconds remaining.
Joseph, with the added pressure of not disappointing his teammates and all Clippers fans in attendance, gave them quite a scare as he missed the first free-throw attempt. However, Joseph re-gathered himself and comfortably made the second charity shot to give Caledonia the one-point win.
Earlier, Police Service emerged victorious over Defence Force, 102-99 in overtime to finish third in the inaugural competition.
In the absence of veteran Steven "Lighter" Lewis and sharpshooter Jamille King, the slightly diminished army-coastguard combination team was neck-and-neck with its Police adversaries heading into the fourth period with a one-point advantage (66-65).
The policemen appeared to be the more eager squad as captain Don Wilkinson (17) and lead scorer Fabrice Fisher (31) relentlessly attacked the Army's defence combining for 14 of the team’s 22 points in the final period. The Defence Force unit was parallel in their attacks however, they struggled to get the timely calls in their favour. Despite the frustration, top scorer Kyeon Joseph (32) and Kensley Sandy (19) continued to play with aggression to keep their members in close range.
With the Defence Force hanging on in the final seconds, veteran guard Derrick Boxhill (17) knocked down a big-time three-pointer tying the game up 87-87 with 3.3 seconds remaining in regulation. The shot which wowed the crowd, gave Defence Force a fighting chance heading into overtime. However, Police prevailed in the extra period securing a three-point victory.
Final (Game one)
Clippers 77 (Adrian Joseph 24, Kurt Christian 14, Miguel Williams 12) vs SOS 76 (Kern George 25, Ahkeel Boyd 20, Kemrick Julien 16). Quarter scores: 1st. 22-15, 2nd. 48-34, 3rd. 66-56 (All in favour of SOS).
Third Place Playoff
Police 102 (Fabrice Fisher 31, Don Wilkinson 17, Dextroy Manswell 16) vs Defence Force 99 (Kyeon Joesph 32, Kensely Sandy 19, Derrick
Boxhill 17). Quarter scores: 1st.25-19 (D/Force), 2nd. 45-44 (Police), 3rd. 66-65 (D Force). 4th. 87-87.
Caledonia Clippers vs SOS, 6 pm