By Scott Prater
50th Operations Group Standardization and Evaluation Division had played a stifling 2-3 zone defense the entire game against fellow league leader Space Warning Squadron Dec. 7, but with four minutes to play in the second half, the team decided it was time for a change.
50 OGV switched to a man-to-man defense during its final timeout, and thanks to some heads-up play from its two guards, pulled off a come-from-behind 34-31 victory, handing 11 SWS its first loss of the season, while extending its own unbeaten streak to six games.
“Our two guards, Matt Pincus and Chris Dempsey, are real effective at disrupting passing lanes,” said 50 OGV captain Teo Williams. “They’re both really fast guys and they were key to our defensive effort late in the game.”
Ironically, it was 50 OGV that got off to a quick start.
Pincus picked up two steals in the game’s first minute, which led directly to a couple of easy fast-break baskets, and forward Kelly McCarthy dropped in two mid-range jump shots as OGV opened on an 11-2 run.
The lead wouldn’t last, however, as 11 SWS turned a switch on its defense.
“Initially we started in a zone scheme,” 11 SWS captain Jerome Wesley said. “They were knocking down too many shots, so we switched over to a man defense. That helped us gain some momentum and we started hitting our shots.”
Andrew Bork ignited the rally with a steal and fast-break layup and Maurice Gale followed by taking over the game.
Gale scored seven of his game-high 13 points during a five-minute span of the first half. His 3-pointer from the left wing cut 50 OGV’s lead to four points, then he drove the baseline and kissed a shot in off the glass on his next possession. Following a steal by Bork, Gale again proved to be the go-to shooter as he hit a short runner from the right side.
Wesley gave 11 SWS its first lead with a pair of free throws at the 1-minute mark, and Stacy Kennedy ended the half by hitting an NBA-length 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“I’ve been playing with Maurice for awhile now and he usually doesn’t take over a game like he did today,” Williams said. “He played really well.”
The fact that the league’s top two teams combined to score just 29 points in the first half surprised 50 OGV forward Pat Gaynor.
“I expected this game to be high scoring,” Gaynor said. “Both teams have a lot of guys who can score, so I really think it showed how intense the game became defensively. Our shooters just couldn’t get into rhythm and we were denying everything down low to 11 SWS, so that forced them to take a lot of outside shots, and really, a lot of off-balance shots too. Even when Maurice (Gale) was hitting shots, he was making them off balance.”
11 SWS upped its lead to seven points after Wesley opened the second half with a pair of post-up baskets, but 50 OGV fought its way back with some key defensive stops and timely scoring from Gaynor and McCarthy.
With four minutes remaining, 50 OGV abandoned its zone defensive in favor of a man-to-man scheme and the switch paid dividends as Dempsey and Pincus picked up steals on five straight possessions.
McCarthy hit a turn-around jumper to cut the lead to two points with 3:50 left, and tied the game a minute later on a fast-break dish from Pincus.
Dempsey layed in another fast-break basket to give 50 OGV the lead for good with less than a minute to play, and Gaynor polished off the win with a free throw.
Gale had a chance to tie the game, but saw his 3-point attempt rim out as the buzzer sounded.
“They forced us into turnovers at the end of the game,” said Wesley. “That was the difference. We were missing two of our big men, starters Jacob Burtschi and Joe Johnson, so I think the next time we play them the game will be more in our favor, but our hats are off to them, they played well today.”