The game, and the championship appeared to be lost, but the Recycle King Naughty Boyz literally stole it back.
"We put the pressure on them - they don't have as many ball-handlers as we do," said Jerome Dyson, who scored 30 points as the Naughty Boyz came back to beat Harte Nissan 152-145 in Game 2 of the Greater Hartford Pro Am Championship Series Wednesday night at Classical Magnet School. "We were going to fight to the end no matter what."
Harte Nissan is bigger and stronger, and with burly NBA vet Ryan Gomes leading the way, they won Game 1 handily. In Game 2, they fell behind by 16 points, but slowly pounded their way back in the game, took the lead early in the fourth quarter and extended it to 10 points, 137-127, with just 2:24 to go.
Then the Naughty Boyz, who had 14 steals in the game, began to press and trap, forcing turnover after turnover and outscoring Harte 25-8 over the final minutes. Wiggins stole the ball at midcourt, drove the lane and drew a foul, completing the three-point play to make it 139-34 with 1:54 left. The Boyz pulled even with 59 seconds left and, when Wiggins broke loose on a fast break, took a long pass from Kuran Iverson and laid it in, Recycle King led 144-142 with 36 seconds left.
"Like a freight train, baby," said Champ Wiggins, one of the Naughty Boyz coaches.
Recycle King kept pressing and won going away, punctuating it with an Iverson dunk at the buzzer.
"We just kept the faith," said Doug Wiggins, who scored 40 points in a triple-double that included 10 rebounds, 10 assists and five steals.
Recycle King and Harte Nissan will renew the battle once more, Thursday night at 7:30 in the winner-take-all third game. If it's anything like the first two, it will be quite entertaining.
After the Game 1 loss, Doug Wiggins sat his Recycle King teammate down in the locker room.
"I told them we've got to play team defense," Wiggins said, "we've got to play like five guys on a string defensively or we're not going to win."
Defense is relative in the Pro Am. But Harte Nissan did score 14 fewer points than the 159 it dropped in Game 1, and more importantly, the Naugty Boyz were able to get the important stops down the stretch.
Through much of the game, though, Recycle King often appeaed to have seven or eight men on the floor to Harte Nissan's five. Dyson, an NBA point guard, Danny Lawhorn (30 points, 11 assists), who is headed to play at SMU, and Wiggins, the veteran from the Hartford Lightning, were everywhere on both ends of the floor and Recycle King opened up a 16-point lead late in the first quarter.
Iverson, 6-foot-9, benefited from the quickness and ball-handling skills of his teammates, but with his skill in the open floor, he, too, added to the speed-over-size equation. Iverson scored 36 points.
But Harte Nissan, the core of which has been together for awhile, was difficult to keep down. Gomes had 34 points and 10 rebounds, Lamonte Ullmer scored 28 and Keith Cothran 27 as they edged back in the game. Ullmer's thunderous throw-down early in the fourth quarter electrified the capacity crowd, and his lay-in gave Harte its first lead of the game, 120-118 with 7:31 to go.
"We knew they were going to try to get the ball in to Gomes and [Ullmer], that's what they were doing the whole game," Dyson said. "We knew if we could keep the ball out of their hands and make other guys score, we would be all right."
Indeed, when it looked like the Naughty Boyz's tank was empty, they reached down and found more energy and shocked their opponents.
"We just turned it up." Doug Wiggins said. "We sent a message."