After struggling with its free-throw shooting most of the game, it was only fitting that "Old Reliable" was at the free-throw line with the game on the line for Reliable Transfer of Juneau.
Kevin Casperson hit the game-winning free throws for the second straight game, leading Reliable to an 86-85 victory over the Kake Tlingit Heat in Monday's winners' bracket action in the Gold Medal's Mighty B Bracket at Juneau-Douglas High School.
The victory sends Reliable into Thursday's 8 p.m. winners' bracket final against defending champion Huna ANB, which needed overtime to beat Yakutat ANB 88-81 in Monday's late game that ended just before midnight.
With his team trailing by two points, 85-83, Casperson was fouled by Kake's Rudy Bean while shooting a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left in the game. Casperson made all three free throws, then Kake's Nick Davis missed a left-handed hook shot as time expired to give Reliable a come-from-behind win.
"I figured we needed to get a shot off so there was time to get a rebound," Casperson said of his 3-point shot, which several fans thought Bean blocked cleanly. "He blocked part of it, but I got hit on the body."
"Of course I got all ball," Bean said. "They played a good game, though. It's unfortunate the last call comes to the referee."
Until Casperson stepped to the line, Reliable was only 10-for-20 from the free-throw line and at one point early in the game had been a lowly 3-for-10. But Casperson has been in this position before - on Sunday in fact. In Sunday's 85-84 victory over Klawock-Prince of Wales, Casperson hit the game-tying and game-winning free throws with about 20 seconds to play.
"Apparently I can shoot free throws at the end of the game," Casperson said.
"He's the best shooter in town," teammate Andy Lee said. "He was that way 10 years ago and he's still the best. He's just that good."
Early in the game it didn't look as if things would come down to late-game heroics. Kake jumped out to a 26-8 lead and it appeared Reliable, which has an average age of 48, might be too old and tired to keep up with last year's B Bracket runners-up. Other than its two point guards - Joe Pelayo and Alan Anderson - the players for Reliable are old enough to compete in the Legendary C Bracket, and several of them have played in the old-timers bracket in past years.
"We're the Grumpy Old Men and the Kids," Lee said. "We've seen it all. Steve Rice and I have been playing basketball together for 36 years, and some of the rest of us have been playing for 25. They say the legs are the first to go, then the egos, and then you play as a team."
"Since we're old, we don't panic," Lonnie Williams said. "You just take your time. That was awesome. That's the way to close out a game."
Bean and Lloyd Davis keyed Kake's early run, with Mike Smith keeping Kake in the lead as Reliable chipped its way back into the game. Pelayo, Lee, Casperson, Craig Kahklen and Williams led Reliable's comeback, with Williams hitting a shot in the paint with 4.8 seconds left in the half to put Reliable up 49-47 at halftime.
"They started, both teams started to play defense," Davis said. "They picked it up on defense. We came out aggressive at the beginning of the game, but we didn't keep it up. It was a good run by them. We hated to let them win, but we hate the three-day layoff. This will be better for us."
"Their team's smaller than us, so it was good to pound it in," Williams said. "We've got some shooters, too."
In the second half, Kake regained the lead and held it for most of the rest of the game. But this time Reliable stayed within striking distance and never trailed by more than six in the second half, and never by more than four over the game's final 10 minutes.
Reliable tied it at 78-78 with 2 minutes, 43 seconds left when Lee hit a 3-pointer, but Kake regained a four-point lead on a pair of free throws by Nick Davis and a jumper by Lloyd Davis. Pelayo hit a 3-pointer to bring Reliable within one, 82-81, with 1:44 left. Smith made one of two free throws to put Kake up 83-81 with 1:13 left, Williams missed two free throws with 59.3 seconds left, and Scott Jackson hit one of two free throws for Kake to make it 84-81 with 41.5 seconds to go.
Kahklen scored on a put-back to make it 84-83 with 24.8 seconds left, then Jackson made one of two free throws with 15.7 left to make it 85-83. That set up Casperson's game-winning shots.
"We didn't even look at the score," Pelayo said of the 26-8 deficit. "We just hung in there till the end and it was working for us."
Williams scored 17 points to lead Reliable, while Lee scored 15, Kahklen and Casperson both had 13 and Pelayo added 10 points.
Smith scored 21 points to lead Kake, while Lloyd Davis had 20, Bean scored 18, and Nick Davis and Jackson chipped in 12 points apiece.
Kake drops to the losers' bracket, where on Wednesday it plays the winner of tonight's 9:30 p.m. game between the Haines Merchants and Klukwan Young Guns.
Yakutat ANB, which lost 88-81 in overtime to Huna ANB in Monday's other B Bracket game, plays at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday against the winner of today's 4 p.m. Klawock-Prince of Wales vs. Angoon ANB game.
Huna ANB 88, Yakutat ANB 81, OT
Yakutat ANB gave defending champion Huna ANB all it could handle, but Huna ANB was able to rally to win Monday's other B Bracket winners' bracket game in overtime.
Led by Nate Strong, who scored 49 points despite having just 13 at halftime, Huna ANB erased a 10-point halftime deficit and a six-point deficit with less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
"I think we got it on the defensive end, and with all the conditioning we've done this winter," said Huna's Albert Hinchman, who made a couple of key steals late in regulation and another couple in overtime to help his team rally. "We've been having a problem lately getting going, even in practice when we play the (Huna) C team and they lead at halftime."
"We wanted to stay aggressive," Yakutat's Mike Jensen said. "We did help out a lot (guarding Strong) and a lot of the guys we had coming off the bench weren't that big. Then they started shooting the 3s. That Huna crowd is tough, they have a strong crowd behind them."
Yakutat led 40-27 with 1:58 left in the first half, and 42-32 at halftime. Huna made a run to tie it at 53-53, but Yakutat regained the lead and held it for most of the rest of the second half.
With Huna down six, 76-70, with 1:42 left in the game, Strong hit a pair of 3-pointers to tie it at 76-76 with 1:20 to go. Huna's Russell Dick was fouled, but he missed a free throw with 55.8 seconds left that could have given Huna a lead. Yakutat turned the ball over with 43.0 seconds left.
Huna called timeout 25.0 seconds left to set up a play, but Strong was called for a charge with 3.9 seconds left as he started to drive to the basket. Yakutat had two shots in the final 3.9 seconds, but time expired and the game went into overtime tied 76-76.
In overtime, Yakutat won the tip and Ralph Johnson was called for a charge when he crashed into Strong, fouling him out of the game. Strong found Travis Dybdahl on a backdoor play to make it 78-76 Huna with 3:27 left in overtime. Nate Endicott was fouled by Strong with 3:16 left and made one of two free throws, with Strong grabbing the rebound. Strong hit a 3-pointer to make it 81-77 with 2:49 left.
Damien Long was fouled with 1:54 left and made both shots to make it 81-79. Yakutat rebounded a Huna miss, but Hinchman stole the pass. Strong was fouled by Long with 1:00 left, making both shots despite a Yakutat timeout to ice him before he shot. Strong grabbed a rebound and found Kamal Lindoff for a bucket, then Lindoff scored again on a breakaway after a Huna steal to make it 87-79 with 13.2 seconds left. Dybdahl made one of two free throws with 10.2 seconds left and Long added a bucket with 5.7 seconds to go for the final margin.
"At the end it was hard to stay focused," Jensen said. "I had a couple of turnovers myself. We'd have two white guys (jerseys) and we'd make a pass, just as a black shirt cut through the middle and stole the ball. We wanted to beat this team more than anything. We want another shot at them."
"We were just trying to get everyone involved," Strong said. "They did a good job on us. Albert and Russell played good defense. They made big steals for a big game."
Dybdahl scored 13 points and was the only other Huna player in double-figure scoring besides Strong. Lindoff scored nine points and Hinchman had six.
Long, who had the unenviable task of guarding Strong on defense, led Yakutat with 29 points, while Eric Anderstrom scored 14 points. Jensen added 12 points and Endicott, who also drew Strong on defense, added 11 points, with eight points from Johnson.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.