Even a highlight-reel night from Tacoma's Devin Jones wasn't enough.
The speedy and athletic guard lit up the scoreboard - and the defense of Anchorage's Northwest Strategies - for 40 points on Friday night to claim top individual honors, but top team honors and a title shot went to Anchorage.
Following a decidedly off game against Marlintini's Arctic Lights of Juneau on Thursday, Northwest Strategies rebounded with a balanced and more disciplined attack Friday to post a 113-102 victory over Tacoma, Wash., at the Juneau-Douglas High School main gym.
The victory means Anchorage advances to today's 4 p.m. championship game in the Gold Medal Tournament's Classic A Bracket. Today's 4 p.m. championship game also will feature Marlintini's in a rematch of the 2002 A bracket finale, which was won by the Juneau team. The Anchorage team was called United last year, but has changed sponsors.
"The key is taking good shots," said Anchorage's Greg Freeman, who tossed in 25 for the winners. "We didn't play well together (Thursday), so tonight we wanted to be more patient, pass the ball better and take better shots."
That's just what it did. And by keeping the ball moving on offense, Anchorage was able to wear down the scrappy Tacoma team, which had just six players available for Friday's game.
"We did get a little tired out there," said Tacoma's Jones, who just finished a season of college basketball with Evergreen State College of Olympia, Wash. "They're a big, strong team and they ran their offense really well, so it was hard to get inside on them."
So he stayed outside - mostly. The hot-shooting Jones, who scored just 12 points in a Wednesday opening-round loss to Marlintini's Arctic Lights and 24 in Thursday's win over Sitka-Chatham Electric, scorched the nets on Friday with eight 3-pointers and added several steals and flashy baskets down low, too.
"He went off. He was hitting everything," Freeman said.
With his team trailing 62-47 and in danger of letting the game slip away early in the second half, Jones put up 11 points in a row for Tacoma in less than 90 seconds, including three straight treys, as the Washington squad fired off a 2-minute, 23-second 13-2 run to close the gap to 64-60.
But that was as close as the feisty Tacoma players would get.
"We'd get (ahead), then quit doing what got us there," said Freeman, who had four 3-pointers of his own for Northwest Strategies. "We had two chances to put them away, and we didn't do it. We can't do that tomorrow (in the championship)."
Anchorage pushed the lead to 12 by midway through the half, but Tacoma stormed back again, narrowing the deficit to five with two minutes to play.
"I gotta hand it to my teammates," Jones said. "No matter how tired they were, our guys never gave up."
Despite the loss and elimination from competition, Jones said playing in the Gold Medal Tournament was a good experience.
"We're loving it here. Everyone is so nice," Jones said. "You can't beat coming to Juneau for spring break."
The final combined offensive output notwithstanding, both teams got off to a slow start, missing the first five shots of the game. Chris Hamey converted a three-point play with 1:11 gone to give Anchorage a 3-0 edge and a lead it would never give up. He finished with 14 - and a healthy respect for his opponent.
"We were a little lazy there near the end, and we made some bad decisions," Hamey said. "They were real scrappy and had a lot of energy."
Hamey said the team will have to avoid those kinds of lapses in today's championship game.
"It comes down to team defense," he said. "We just have to find ourselves and make good plays."
Jon Madison, who poured in a team-high 31 for Anchorage, including seven baskets from beyond the arc, agreed. He said it's going to take a total team effort to avoid a fourth straight loss in two years to Marlintini's.
"It's do or die. The big thing is respect. We didn't respect the Juneau team (on Wednesday)," he said. "We need to work as a team and play together. We need to play unselfish basketball to win the championship."
Nelson Williams chipped in 15 points and provided a formidable inside presence for Anchorage, which got a combined 19 points from Chris Lewis and Matt Carle, one of six former Juneau residents playing for Northwest Strategies.
Mike Parker, a teammate of Jones' on the Geoducks, notched 29 for Tacoma. Will White, a Gustavus resident who plays college basketball for Southern Oregon University, added 19 points and Ryan Broker, a former Lathrop High School and University of Alaska Fairbanks player, scored 14 for Tacoma.
Mark Kelsey is a former Juneau Empire reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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