By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
Staff Sgt. Labronze Paden racked up 25 points, with 17 in the first half to lead the 647th Civil Engineer Squadron (647 CES) Bulls over the 8th Intelligence Squadron Exploiters, 57-50, in a Red Division intramural basketball matchup at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Fitness Center.
Taking full advantage of the Exploiters two-three zone, Paden zeroed in from long range to pump in five three-pointers in the first half and help the Bulls build up a 33-23 lead going into halftime.
The win by the 647 CES evened out the team’s record at 3-3 after the Bulls opened the season with three straight losses.
Meanwhile, the struggling Exploiters dropped their fifth game of the season against two victories.
“I’m a natural two guard,” said Paden about his marks-manship from beyond the three-point arc.
While the game started off as a shootout, it wasn’t long before Paden and his teammates began to take control.
Up by a score of 22-11, Paden knocked down his fourth trey of the game to give the Bulls a 14-point lead with 8:54 remaining before halftime.
The Exploiters managed to cut the deficit down to eight on back-to-back treys from Lt. Col. James Weaver and Master Sgt. Josh Gerrish, but a basket by Airman 1st Class Jurel Burton upped the Bulls lead back to double-digits at 27-17 before holding on to keep the lead at 10 points at halftime.
In the first half, both teams combined to convert an incredible 11 three-point baskets with Paden leading the Bulls with five and the duo of Weaver and Gerrish, respectively, hitting three and two each from long distance.
While their outside shooting percentage dropped considerably in the second half, the Bulls took care of business at the free-throw line and by controlling the ball on offense.
Although the Exploiters were able to draw to within six points several times during the second half, the Bulls answered each time.
The Exploiters cut the lead down to six points for the last time with less than two minutes to go in the game, but a basket by Staff Sgt. Brian Sanders and two free throws by Burton raised the lead back to 10 with 1:20 remaining on the clock to secure the win.
Besides Paden’s game-leading 25 points, Burton contributed 17 points for the Bulls, while the Exploiters were led by Weaver with 10 points and Capt. Anwar Johnson with 15 points.
“I think we played well tonight, but down the stretch we missed a lot of free throws,” Johnson said. “They (Bulls) shot really well for three especially in the first half. So we tried to change up the defense to a three-two, but on that we weren’t getting rebounds and were allowing penetration through the middle.”
Although the Bulls won by only seven points, this was a game in which the team seemed to be in full control from the beginning until the end.
Paden said that the win shows that the Bulls have turned the season around, and he hopes that the victories continue through the rest of the year and the playoffs.
“We practice and play together all the time, so we’ve developed a little chemistry,” said Paden about the Bulls three-game-winning streak. “We’re playing for the championship.”