By Scott Prater
Most of the hype prior to Schriever’s intramural basketball championship game here Feb. 17 centered around the 3rd Space Operations Squadron’s twin towers, John Frye and Deane Lake. The two 6-foot-10 behemoths create an instant matchup problem for any opponent by themselves. Paired as teammates on the court, it’s easy to understand how opposing teams might struggle to defend against them.
But as much as the 11th Space Warning Squadron players had game planned for the towers, they had no answer for Eric Palmer, at roughly 5-foot-8, arguably the shortest player on the court.
Palmer weaved in, out, through and around the 11 SWS defense like a bumblebee on caffeine, scoring 18 points and dishing out four assists during the first half of the 3 SOPS’ 44-32 victory.
Afterward, he tried to deflect credit.
“Our big guys pulled down rebounds and then looked outside instead of going back up,” he said. “Defenders forgot where I was as they went up for rebounds. I got lucky and made a few.”
Team captain Frye saw it differently.
“Eric [Palmer] is our focal point as far as controlling the ball,” Frye said. “When you have two 6-10 guys and another big forward you need someone to control the ball and make decisions as to who is going to get the shots. That’s what we were missing in the middle part of the season when Eric was out.”
Much to the delight of the loud-and-proud 3 SOPS gallery, which featured a bull horn, siren, fire-engine-air horn and full-size mascot; Palmer opened by sinking his first two 3-point attempts.
However, 11 SWS kept pace thanks to Lamont Hicks who drained his first three attempts. Lake broke the stalemate midway through when he buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Palmer followed by driving for a layup and sinking the subsequent free throw, then hit another 3-pointer on 3 SOPS’ next possession. Ora Cranford posted up for a bucket with three minutes left and Palmer hit both ends of a one-and-one to put 3 SOPS up 28-19 at intermission.
“Our approach was to try and spread them out and then just run them,” 11 SWS team captain Maurice Gale said. “We didn’t want to let them set up their defense because they are just too big. The problem was we kept having to inbound the ball on our end.”
Things didn’t change much for 11 SWS in the second half. Hicks scored 12 points in the first half, but just four in the second as 3 SOPS’ defense tightened.
“They got smart with their defense,” Gale said of 3 SOPS’ strategy. “Hicks was killing them, so they double teamed him. We had to rely on our jump shots and just couldn’t get them to fall.”
Cranford, a staple for 3 SOPS all season, managed to get inside for some tough points early and Lake scored seven of his 12 points in the second half. Thanks to a 9-0 opening run, 3 SOPS pulled away for good. Frye began subbing with 10 minutes left and all 12 3 SOPS players logged significant playing time.
“I think it was important that everybody got in the championship game since we relied on so many during the season,” Palmer said.
Frye agreed, saying players like Cranford had carried the team during vital points of the season while other players were injured or couldn’t make games due to work-schedule conflicts.
“The post-season tournament was really the first time we were able to get our full squad together,” he said. “We had some 20 3 SOPS athletes participate this season and we relied on each of them. It didn’t really matter how athletic or experienced they were. We benefitted from guys who showed up and just wanted to have a good time.”