In a tightly contested game that was fit for a final, Kent managed to outlast rivals Thames Valley 90-87. Consistently playing catch up in the final quarter after a poor 3rd period, the Cavs rallied from a double digit deficit before coming up just short on the final buzzer.
Trailing by 3 with less than 10 seconds on the clock, Thames Valley had one last roll of the dice to try and force the game into OT. Inbounding the ball to star man Martelle McLemore, the imposing forward raced down the court before pulling up at the top of the arc to let fly. With pressure all around him, his shot could only find the back iron before bouncing away.
With heartbreak for the London club, Kent will be delighted to have added playoff success to a D2M regular season title. John Shodipo collected the MVP award after a 7/9 shooting performance, netted 18 points to add to 11 rebounds, 5 dimes and 2 steals. Captain RJ Eytle-Rock’s contribution shouldn’t be overlooked as the young talent added 21 points and 8 boards of his own.
Whilst the beginning of the 2nd half didn’t favour Thames Valley, the beginning of the 1st certainly did as points from Philip Perre and Robert Banks Jr allowed the Cavs to move out to a 19-13 lead. Eytle-Rock closed the quarter with a 3 to narrow the gap but it was still a 24-21 Thames Valley game after 1.
A 14-7 run to open the 2nd quarter swing the game back in Kent’s favour but it wasn’t to last. With Banks Jr continuing to enjoy a strong 1st half in which he collected 17 points, the youngster turned it on in the 2nd quarter to push his team back out in front. Kent once again closed the quarter with a 3 but it was their opponents who would lead at the half, up 49-44 after a closing 18-9 burst of their own.
The 3rd would prove the undoing of all Thames Valley’s hard work. Eventual MVP Shodipo led the charge before Eytle-Rock and Amin Adamu joined the party and began to turn the screw. For the 3rd period in a row the Crusaders ended the quarter with a shot from beyond the arc, Shodipo on this occasion, capping an emphatic 10 minutes of play. Their 5-point deficit had been swung around into a 69-62 lead after a 25-13 frame.
A frantic and exciting final 10 minutes provided Thames Valley with plenty of opportunities to get back into the game but with 3:30 remaining they still trailed by 9. In fitting with the weekend to that stage, late drama was on the horizon as 80-71 quickly became 82-80 after a trio of free throws from Banks. Both teams traded baskets to get the score to 88-85 before McLemore’s fateful final effort. Such a narrow loss on the greatest stage of the year will be a bitter pill to swallow for Thames Valley after finishing a narrow 3rd in the regular season to miss out on promotion to D1M. For Kent though, it’s a league and playoff double and the anticipation of top flight basketball next term.
All images courtesy of Mansoor Ahmed/AhmedPhotos