A.L. Johnson Classic
After trailing 20-13 at halftime, Sunshine rallied to beat the hosting Eagles 48-45 in the final game of the A.L. Johnson Classic Friday evening.
“They won ugly,” Sunshine head coach Walter Jones said of his team’s effort during the game. “We’re just struggling right now.”
The Tigers rode the hot shooting of Woodrikus Carlisle in the second half to surge back into the game. Carlisle his two pivotal three-point shots to anchor his squad’s comeback effort.
“We made a lot of minor mistakes and all, but we learn from our mistakes and maybe next time we’ll come out on top,” A.L. Johnson senior Bryan Williams said.
That next time is exactly what worries Jones. His Tigers have two regular season meetings with the Eagles, an area foe, remaining on the schedule.
“That’s what we talked about,” Jones said of the potential confidence boost ALJ could receive from playing a competitive game with Sunshine. “If we let them hand around, that’s going to come back and bite us down the road.”
“Well the boys confidence is really not shot,” A.L. Johnson head coach Cecil Robinson said. “This is the only game they played four quarters.”
The Eagles carried a 31-26 lead into the fourth quarter before Sunshine made its run, leaving ALJ on the comeback trail with only seconds remaining in the game.
With the Tigers up 48-45 and only eight seconds to go, the Eagles missed their best opportunity when a potential game-tying trey drew iron and caromed into Sunshine hands. The Eagles immediately fouled, sending Sunshine to the free throw line with 1.3 seconds remaining in the game.
With an opportunity to ice the game, the Tigers missed both attempts.
The ensuing desperation heave from the Eagles missed its mark, bringing the game to a close.
“They are proud of what they were able to do,” Robinson said of his team. “But they really wanted to win. I’m proud of my boys and I think coming into the area tournament, we’re going to surprise some people.”
Robinson’s team shares little with the one he coached a season ago.
“Out of 12 players last year, we brought two back,” Robinson said.
As such, according to Robinson, the team is still working to define itself. It has identified junior Kejuan McGhee as its primary scoring option, but has yet to determine which player will represent its second most effective scorer.
Thelbert Staten assumed that role Friday night, scoring 13 points in the game.
“That’s the guy I need to get into the game,” Robinson said of Staten, who was the second-leading scorer for the Eagles behind McGhee’s 15-point night.
“I tell my guys that some people can’t shoot. But one thing you can do is, you can hustle,” Robinson said. “And they did it for me tonight.”
For Sunshine, Dayton Mickens led the way with 15 points and 10 rebounds. John May added 12 points while Carlisle finished with 10. Nathaniel Zinnerman scored six points and drew the unenviable task of defending McGhee, all while playing with a broken wrist.
“He did a pretty good job playing with one hand,” Jones said. “I told the guys he outplayed everybody on our team with one hand.”
Jones said his team is still in the process of determining its identity after it lost its core from the 2007-2008 squad.
“I think we’re going to get there,” Jones said. “I think we’ll be a completely different team come tournament time.”