The U.S. Coast Guard (8-2) maintained a surgical balance between ball control, shooting accuracy and machine-like man-to-man defense to claim a 57-27 upset victory over the 10-1 National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Feb. 27 at Graves Fitness Center.
The win earned the Coast Guard a position in the intramural basketball championship final.
The Coast Guard took the court knowing their greatest challenge would come in the form of NGA’s nimble and inexhaustible point guard, Carlos Serrano. Throughout the 2013 season, Serrano had thoroughly frustrated opponents with his agility, speed and apparently unlimited energy. Coast Guard point guard, Jesse Barnes, and forward, Sean Stickney, formed the keystone of the Coast Guard defense, pressuring Serrano from the midcourt inward from the opening exchange. Meanwhile, forwards, Christopher Linton, Justin Richardson and Azaret Rivera, made sure lane-driving opportunities were kept at a minimum.
Serrano nevertheless found some early opportunities, passing the ball out to forwards, Kenya Edwards and Mario Kinney, and shooting guard, Michael Miller, who put some points on the board with clean field goals. Supplementing the offensive efforts with a nearly impenetrable 3-2 pressing zone at the opposite end of the court, NGA managed to limit Stickney and Linton to midrange jumpers to keep the score close. At the nine-minute mark, NGA held onto a modest 11-7 lead.
With their next possession, however, the Coast Guard shifted strategy to target three-point opportunities along the strangely vacant baseline. Drawing NGA defenders outside Barnes immediately found Linton and Rivera in the open for a pair of clean field goals. Stickney and Richardson crashed the boards on cue to retain possession and sink a pair of follow-up buckets to slide their team into a 16-13 lead by the three-minute mark.
Recognizing the Coast Guard’s sudden growth in shooting accuracy from the perimeter NGA called for a timeout to devise a plan to apply greater pressure to Linton and Richardson. The adjustment paid off during the ensuing minute as Serrano and Barnes effectively controlled Coast Guard ball handlers with double-teams. NGA, however, quickly learned the Coast Guard had come to the court with a highly flexible offense that could be adjusted at will no matter what their opponents decided to pull from the playbook. Taking advantage of the new vacancies in the lane resulting from NGA’s commitment to man-to-man, Rivera, Barnes and point guard, Rob Miller, exploded into the paint and sank a string of layups to drive back into the lead. Stickney supplied highly effective assists and picks to enable the latest point run and the Coast Guard banked another eight.
NGA rapidly began to struggle with the Coast Guard’s highly mobile 3-2 pressing zone. Coast Guard forward, Mark Wade, joined forces with Stickney and Barnes to execute a fierce midcourt press that forced a pair of costly NGA turnovers that Linton was more than obliged to carry down the length of the court for two easy lay-ins. Offensively the Coast Guard kept momentum building with yet another string of midrange jumpers from Stickney and forward, Karsten Herron.
At the halftime buzzer the Coast Guard took to the bench with a solid 21-13 lead.
Second-half action got underway with the Coast Guard initiating a newly energized approach to getting the ball into scoring position in very short order. Barnes identified himself as a player who could not be allowed so much as an inch of hardwood in which to operate. Finding some instant opportunities around the perimeter, the quick point guard found Rivera, Herron and Richardson in the open who hit nothing-but-net jumpers from beyond the three-point arc. Meanwhile, Stickney continued to find vacancies in the paint, made possible by stellar assists from Barnes and Richardson.
The shift in fortunes rapidly began to undermine NGA’s cohesion. Serrano struggled to find open teammates amidst the ferocious Coast Guard pressure-zone defense and Linton added a pair of steals to his game stats by exploiting NGA’s long cross-court passes. The fierce man-to-man defense forced Serrano and company to settle for low percentage shot attempts throughout the third period and the contest grew increasingly imbalanced.
At the 4:24 mark NGA trailed the Coast Guard 42-22, clearly identifying a need to revamp the defense in order to control Herron, Richardson and Stickney’s impeccable shooting capabilities. Adding some heat to the man-to-man pressure outside, NGA attempted to force Coast Guard ball handlers to drive the lane. The polished and adaptable Coast Guard passing game, however, proved once again that this contest would be decided on the two teams’ abilities to adjust fast. NGA defenders managed to dampen the Coast Guard’s fire at the perimeter but the added vehemence in the paint began to cost dearly in the form of fouls. Sinking a string of freebies from the charity stripe the Coast Guard continued to put the game out of NGA’s reach.
NGA succeeded in sinking a handful of three-pointers from near the top of the key and baseline, but Richardson, Herron and Rivera immediately answered back with yet another run of field goals. Adding to the onslaught was Barnes and Stickney’s never-say-die approach to driving the lane which cost NGA another two buckets complete with accompanying foul line opportunities.
The game clock finally ran out with the Coast Guard taking a sweeping 57-27 victory, along with their ticket to the championship where they would face off against the surgical precision of JPPSOWA for the title trophy.