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After Wednesday's lopsided 56-point victory over Sitka, the Marlintini's Arctic Lights were confident their game was good enough to take them all the way to Saturday's championship game of the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's A Bracket.
But the Arctic Lights were in for a surprise against United of Anchorage on Thursday night. United's game, the Arctic Lights soon learned, was very different than Sitka's. In the end, the Arctic Lights were able to eke out a 106-103 victory at Juneau-Douglas High School, earning a spot in the title game.
The Arctic Lights struggled to overcome an aggressive United team, which led most of the game. Jumping to an early 13-point lead within the first four minutes of play, it looked like United might give the Lights a thumping similar to the one the Arctic Lights gave Sitka in Wednesday's 142-86 victory.
United's Garret Abbott, who had 30 points in the game, came out charged up, unafraid to take it to the hole. Abbott was able to draw four personal fouls against him in the first half, and he didn't waste his opportunities at the line, sinking seven of nine free throws in the game.
Chris Hamey took care of the long balls for United in the first half, canning three 3-pointers in a row. And when he was fouled during a 3-point attempt, he sank all three free throws. Hamey turned in 19 points in the game. Teammate Shaun O'Shea had 20.
United's lead began to dwindle near the end of the half. By the break, United only led 59-53.
The second half came down to consistency. United scored 59 points in the first half, but only 44 points in the second. Staying consistent, the Arctic Lights scored 53 points in each half.
"Whenever we get a lead, we don't stick to what got us there," Abbott said. "We take too many sloppy shots, too many bad passes."
The Arctic Lights finally took the lead with 12 minutes to go in the game. For two minutes the teams traded baskets. Then the Lights took over.
"Basketball's a game of runs, and basically we were able to put together a run," said Arctic Lights' Robert Casperson, who had seven points. "They've got some shooters on their team. The question is just trying to play those guys." Casperson graduated from JDHS in 1996 and is now a Crimson Bears assistant basketball coach.
The Arctic Lights' offense looked nothing like Wednesday's carpet bombing against Sitka, when Jason Bavard and Emile Sheppard combined for 17 3-pointers.
Against United, Bavard bucketed 18 points with three 3-pointers. Sheppard scored 17 points but didn't hit any 3-point shots.
"I really shouldn't have tried to play today," said Sheppard, who woke up sick. "I don't feel good at all. I got it bad. I really appreciate Nico, though."
Always a presence in the game, Nico Harrison led the Arctic Lights with 46 points. Harrison scored Arctic Lights' first eight points, and he single-handedly sustained his team's lead in the crucial minutes after the Lights finally got the upper hand, scoring 10 straight points.
With the win, the Arctic Lights earned their way into the A Bracket championship game at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Although this win wasn't easy, the Arctic Lights are still confident going into the championship.
"I think we beat the top two teams so I'd say we're doing pretty good," Harrison said.
United will play Tenakee Tribe tonight at 6 in the losers' bracket final. The winner of that match will advance to Saturday's championship game to face the Arctic Lights.
"Hopefully we'll meet again and give them another battle," said United's Chris Hamey. "It's a lot of fun playing these guys."
Tenakee 90, Sitka 84
In a rematch of last year's A Bracket championship game, Tenakee Tribe once again outplayed Sitka American Legion Post 13.
Tenakee's James Wilson led the team in scoring with 30 points, with half coming from behind the 3-point line. Anthony Porter added 24 to the team's total, and Showalter Martin contributed 13 points, with 12 coming on 3's.
Five of Sitka's players turned in double-digit scores. Mark Hayward scored the team-high 26 points. Robert Miller earned 20, while Otto Tanner and Jason Schlein both had 17.
With the loss, Sitka American Legion is out of the tournament. Tenakee Tribe advances to tonight's 6 p.m. losers' bracket final game against United of Anchorage.