Westminster claimed the Patrons Cup by the thinnest of margins, edging past Thames Valley Cavaliers 86-85.
The game was neck and neck for large stages, and deep into the final quarter a single basket was all that separated the teams. With the Warriors up by that single point, the Cavs had one last shot at glory and but came up short. Martelle McLemore managed to fight through traffic to get his last gasp effort away but it found the rim not the net. Thames Valley grabbed the offensive board but simply couldn’t get another shot off, even from a few inches away, before the final buzzer.
Westminster’s Jon Johnson was a deserving MVP recipient after a triple-double performance across the full 40 minutes, finishing with 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
Both teams set up such an exciting finish to the game with some high quality basketball from the outset. Neither side was slacking on the defensive end but both teams were able to put up points in the early going. Martelle McLemore and Jon Johnson went toe-to-toe throughout the 1st quarter to keep the scores even before a couple of 3-point plays gave Thames Valley the edge. First Philip Perre, then Abdoulaye Sylla drove hard to the basket, converting with contact before dropping the and-1. That left the Cavs up 27-22 after 1.
The game stayed close from there and was finely poised with displays of quality being rewarded and errors being punished. As the quarter progressed it was Justin Hitchman’s turn to step up as he scored 5 quick points to put Westminster into the lead for the 1st time. An Adomaitis jumper pushed the difference out to 39-34 and with it the Cavs needed a time out to regroup. From there the contest evened once again, though Hitchman continued to excel until the half time break.
The physicality of the game increased in the 3rd period as both teams stepped up their defence. That led to few opportunities and every point had to be earned. An uncharacteristic breakdown on defence led to Thames Valley’s Robert Banks Jnr. slicing down the lane unguarded, flushing a 2 hand slam to give the Cavs some momentum. Shortly after came a big moment in the game as TVC tried to keep their run going following a 2 on 1 fast break. McLemore’s behind the back drop pass found his open team mate, but the talented shooter was called for an offensive foul after making contact with the defender once he let go of the assist. That incident seemed to raise the tempo for both teams as the game became heated, but more importantly both McLemore and Perre got into foul trouble and went to the bench. From there, Westminster went on an 8-2 run to end the quarter and led 70-61 going into the last.
Hitchman started the quarter with a nice and-1 play, but Thames Valley knew they’d need to use all the quality on their roster to get back into the game. McLemore and Perre were both reintroduced in quick time, and Banks Jnr. was also worked into the offence as he began to come alive. Despite emotions running high, Jon Johnson remained a picture of composure, regularly stepping in to calm his team mates. The rest of the way there was little to split the sides. Thames Valley managed to get the score down to a single basket, and both teams took turns at leading by a single basket and at times, a single point.
With 30 seconds to go, Sam Toluwase went 1 of 2 from the line to leave the score at 86-85 Westminster and despite the action that followed in those final seconds, neither team was able to score again. After a miss from Adomaitis, Thames Valley grabbed the rebound and raced down the court. Toluwase gathered the ball near the 3-point line and fired a cross-court pass to a wide open Banks Jnr. Unfortunately for the Cavs, the pass was agonisingly high and the ball fell out of bounds as Banks Jnr. was unable to bring it in. That then led to Justin Hitchman being fouled on the in-bounds, but there was more drama to follow. Hitchman missed his 1st shot before having his 2nd shot ruled out for a violation on the offence. With just a few seconds left, Thames Valley got the ball in the hands of McLemore who wriggled through 2 defenders to shoot an off balanced effort but it wasn’t to be for the Cavs as Westminster celebrated with the buzzer sounding.
“I’m still shocked!” said Johnson after the wild finish. “That could have gone either way, especially with the put back at the end. It was back and forward, up and down, a great game. They’ve got really good players that are well coached. We did the best we could to slow them down. Our guys are amazing though, we’ve come together and we all know the purpose of this team. Everyone is focussed on Warrior basketball and it’s why we got the result today.”
Thames Valley Head Coach Robert Banks Snr, “It wasn’t meant to be. We played hard for 6 minutes, then we coasted, and then we didn’t play until the final quarter. We battled back despite nobody having a good game. They played well, we didn’t play super, it happens.”