There will be a new B Bracket champion crowned in this year's Gold Medal Basketball Tournament.
Haines Merchants beat the defending champ Kake Tlingit Heat 103-100 on Thursday in the B Bracket losers' bracket, eliminating Kake and advancing to play Huna ANB at 9 p.m. today at the Juneau-Douglas High School gym.
"It's kind of redemption, I guess, from last year," said Andrew Friske, who led all scorers with 37 points. "We played Kake and they beat us by just a few points last year, so it feels good. Kake is one of the best teams in the tournament."
"We were looking to play for a championship this year," said Rudy Bean, who scored 27 points for Kake. "We knew it would be a dogfight from game one. A lot of good teams this year, a lot of good teams. Came up short, look to be back next year."
Haines began the game by establishing an early lead, but Kake went ahead at 15:19 on a Mike Smith 3-pointer, bringing the score to 13-12. After Haines took a 17-15 lead with 14:28 left on a Friske 3-pointer, Kake picked up its tempo and went on a 12-0 run. Then David Buss hit two consecutive 3-point shots for Haines, shifting the momentum for the Merchants, which snowballed into a 50-43 Haines lead at halftime.
"I'm glad to see our team playing together as we are," said Friske. "We boarded a lot better today and we played a little bit better defense, but I think we got a lot of second chance points and we didn't give them too many second chance points."
Kake started the second half with a 6-0 run. The Tlingit Heat continued to chip away at the Merchants' lead, but each time Kake drew near Haines would battle back and reestablish a seemingly comfortable lead with the help its solid rebounding and clutch shooting.
"They're always tough competition," said the Merchants' Ben Egolf. "They've got a real tough ball club."
Led by the tenacious offensive will of Bean and Scott Jackson, Kake kept the score tight into the final minutes of play. Jackson hit a deep 3-pointer with 31 seconds left in the game, bringing the score to 99-97. Kake then began fouling so the Merchants couldn't run out the clock, resulting in four more Merchants points from the free throw line. Bean hit another 3-point shot for Kake with six seconds left in the game, but that would be the final bucket. Haines ran out the clock and won 103-100.
"We just kind of ran out of gas. It was a tough game," said Bean. "If we would have had another minute I think we could have caught them, but the clock just ran out."
"It feels good, a little revenge," said Stuart Dewitt, who scored 11 points for Haines, including three 3-point shots. "They got us last year, we got them this year. It seems to be how it goes - every other year."
Egolf said the tough rivalry between the two teams has created some good friendships on the basketball court over the years.
"I've got a lot of buddies on that team so it's always tough to play against them, but when you step on the court it's all competitive," he said. "I guess if I wasn't playing against them I'd be rooting for those guys, but it feels good to get it done."
"Haines is a great bunch of guys, they deserve to win," Bean said.
Bean said it's always disappointing to be eliminated from a tournament but said this year's Gold Medal Basketball Tournament was still a rewarding experience.
"The tournament has been wonderful," he said. "Great games, outstanding performances by individual guys. I think it's amazing how much talent is in Southeast Alaska, especially coming out of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian communities. It's just unbelievable."
Dewitt said the Merchants still haven't played up to their potential and are looking forward to today's matchup.
"We played good enough to win, but we still have a long ways to go to get better," he said. "We haven't really shot all that well this tournament, usually we shoot a lot better. We got a lot better games in us."
Buss scored 16 points for Haines, Egolf had 14 points, and Jason Shull added 12 points for the Merchants.
Jackson scored 21 points for Kake, Mike Smith and Lloyd Davis each scored 14 points, and Aaron Loges added 10 points for the Tlingit Heat.
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