A dynasty, not unlike the Golden State Warriors’, continued its reign in the semifinals of The Basketball Tournament on Thursday night at Morgan State.
The Overseas Elite — the bearers of three of the four TBT banners — purchased their fourth straight ticket to the championship game by dispatching their 24th victim in three years, the Golden Eagles, 85-60. The Elite will play in Friday’s 9 o’clock final against Eberlein Drive, which edged Team Fredette, 80-76, in the second semifinal.
In what began as a 72-team, single-elimination pool of TBT hopefuls, the Overseas Elite are just one victory away from the $2 million winner-take-all prize, adding to their collective tournament winnings of an additional $5 million over the years.
The Elite are certainly beloved. Of the four teams present in Baltimore, they were the only one that inspired hand-drawn posters that fans strung over the bleachers.
In return, the three-time champions served their following another trophy-bound performance.
Whereas the Marquette group seemed initially incapable of scoring in the first quarter and fouled four times, four-year tournament veteran Kyle Fogg and his Elite weaved seamlessly around the defense, completing nearly every pass unfettered.
“I've been bumming it all tournament so it was about time I made a shot or two,” said Fogg, who had scored 13 in the quarterfinal and 14 in the second round.
Fogg hit a 3-pointer early on, followed by one by D.J. Kennedy. Both used their size effectively, swatting away the Golden Eagles’ attempted passes or shrugging off their guards.
By the time Elgin Cook (19 points) scored the Golden Eagles’ first basket, the game was 4½ minutes old. By then, they were down 13 points. Cook beat the buzzer to hit another three for the Eagles, but by the end of the first quarter, the Marquette alumni trailed 28-13.
“I think it's important to come out and fight,” Overseas Elite point guard Errick McCollum said. “We're 24-0. A lot of people are just playing for the money in the championship, but we're playing for something else, too. We don't want anyone to beat us. We want to carry history. We want to make a legacy.”
The script flipped in the second quarter, as Golden Eagles point guard Travis Diener, who has spent five seasons in the NBA, hit a 3-pointer to open the period and the Eagles made set, intermittently padded by a pair of free throws after luring the Elite into fouls.
Suddenly it was the Golden Eagles weaving around the defense and making baskets, and not the other way around. It was the Elite kissing the rim and watching their attempts skitter away to the Eagles’ hands.
Still, despite their efforts, the former Marquette stars could cut their deficit to only 43-34.
“They were making everything for [Boheim’s Army in the quarterfinal], not so much against us,” McCollum said. “Sometimes it might be the bright lights, sometimes it's our defensive stance, but we knew. We won't ever shy away from the moment.”
Fogg, the two-time defending tournament Most Valuable Player, hasn’t been the Elite’s top scorer for the first four rounds, but he was the difference-maker Thursday night, going 6-for-6 from the field in the first half and finishing with 38 points, including five 3-pointers.
By the start of the fourth quarter, the Eagles still trailed 64-56 — a daunting deficit considering the Elam rules in effect.
TBT mostly follows NCAA rules but invokes the Elam ending. At the first dead ball after the four minute mark in the fourth quarter, the game clock shuts off. A target score is set by adding seven to the leading team’s score. The first team to reach the target score wins.
Before the clock hit the four-minute mark, the Eagles were down 78-60. When it did, they sped out of sight.
First, Fogg drew a foul off the Eagles, to start the scoring, and then hit a 3-pointer. Kennedy danced around the Eagles defense, then jumped and landed the game-winner.
The Elite reached the magic 85 in minutes.
“The only team in this tournament that can beat us is ourselves,” Overseas Elite coach Marc Hughes.
Eberlein Drive will get the opportunity after holding off Team Fredette, which got 24 points from its namesake, Jimmer Fredette, the 2011 National Player of the Year at Brigham Young, the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft and a veteran of four NBA teams.
The Drive, though facing an uphill battle Friday, felt no pressure Thursday.
“It’s obvious they play as a team. They don’t care who scores either. There’s a reason why they’re 24-0,” point guard Jerome Randle said.
The Drive led 41-32 and then 65-54 before Fredette hit a shot to narrow the deficit to three points with 6:19 remaining, then sank another to tie it.
Then came Elam — and a target of 80.
After a foul by Fredette, shooting guard Osiris Eldridge hit two free throws and Team Fredette’s Ra’Shad James responded with a 3-pointer, followed by a set from McAdoo.
Fredette hit two free throws to shrink his team’s need to four points, but McAdoo responded with the game-winner.