October 19, 2008

Playaz take iS8/Nike chip to Jersey

On Sunday afternoon in South Jamaica, NY, the championship game of the iS8/Nike Tip-Off Fall Classic was setting up to be a barn burner between the Juice All-stars from Brooklyn, NY versus the Playaz Club Seniors from New Jersey.

New to the mix for the Playaz Club was Dominic Cheek, who missed the semifinal game due to a visit to Kansas' Midnight Madness. A new twist for Juice was the return of Vincent Council. Council was Abraham Lincoln's PSAL championship team's point guard last year. In the end, the iS8 chip would travel out-of-state as Chris Gaston would lead his Playaz Club team to the promise land in a convincing, 96-81 win.

The first quarter began at 100 miles per hour as both teams came out strokin'. Tamir Jackson and Brian Oliver hit buckets early for the Playaz Club, while James Padgett put up numbers in the paint against the Playaz zone defense.

With 4:35 left in the first quarter, Jackson put Playaz up by 3 points off a drive to the hole. The Playaz extended their lead to 9 points as Lance Stephenson played the point guard for Juice, which seemed to hinder his scoring ability.

Coach Dwayne "Tiny" Morton subsequently took Stephenson off point and repositioned him in the paint near the foul line, which opened up the shooters as well as himself, but at the end of the first quarter, Juice was still down by 8 points.

With 5:50 left in the half, Juice was clearly on their heels as Jackson and the Playaz Club pushed the ball hard and fast, swelling their lead to 13 points as Fordham commit Lance Brown joined in the offensive movement.

6-foot-7 Chris Gaston, from the New Hampton school, and Cheek were also effective with put-backs on the offensive boards, while nullifying Karron Johnson. Darwin Buddha" Ellis, who's usually an accurate shooter, was off early and with 2:26 remaining in the half, Juice was now down 16 points.

Coach Morton wisely subbed in Council and immediately after he implemented skillful assists to Ellis and Shaquille Stokes, the Playaz Club lead was down to only 8 points with 1:15 left in the half. Brown finally ended Playaz Club drought but Padgett answered inside. Brown, got the last word, dunking as the half ended putting the Playaz Club up by ten, 48-38.

In the second half, Coach Morton started Council for Juice and the Playaz Club lead was quickly cut to 5 as Ellis began to heat up.

The Playaz Club coach Kyle Anderson said to NYC Hoops at halftime, "Our strategy is to play Lance (Stephenson) one-on-one and force the rest of the team to beat us. We're on track to score 90 points so Lance could score 50 points. We just don't believe that the rest of his team can score 40 points and beat us." The strategy had worked during the first half but the unexpected addition of Council's superior distribution skills threw a brief monkey wrench into the mix. Coach Anderson, however, called a time-out, no doubt to reemphasize his strategy.

Gaston, then stepped up big-time for the Playaz Club, out rebounding Padgett on the offensive and defensive boards. With 2:43 remaining in the third, Juice once again found themselves down 13 points. Turnovers would also start plague the Juice All-stars and with 1:12 left in the quarter, the Playaz Club had a lead of 17 points. The quarter ended with the Juice All-stars down 15 points and looking for answers.

Tamir Jackson is a tough guard both literally and figuratively and with 6:41 remaining in the game, he increased the Playaz lead to 18 points with dazzling crossovers and slashing drives to the basket. Gaston then penetrated on the following possession, giving the New Jersey team a seeming insurmountable 20 point lead. The Playaz Club defense was wicked and unrelenting, totally overwhelming the Brooklyn team.

With 4:05 left in the game, Gaston gave the Playaz Club their largest lead at 24 points as the game seemed to be heading towards the dreaded 'blowout' categorization.

There was 2:32 left in the game. The Playaz Club, up 19 points, began to spread the floor as the Juice All-stars crowd began to silence in sad expectation of the inevitable. The Playaz Club would be crowned the iS8/Nike champions as the game faded to black on the Juice All-stars.

Fordham-bound Chris Gaston scored a game high 25 points with 12 rebounds while Jackson and Cheek contributed 18 points apiece.

Lance Stephenson scored 23 points for the Juice All-stars while Ellis added 17 points.

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