By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
On the verge of a historic push to win three base championships in a row, Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Hawaii got off on the right foot by beating 647th Civil Engineer Squadron Bulls, 43-28, to open the 2014 Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam intramural basketball season Jan. 28 at JBPHH Fitness Center.
Relying on the inside power of a trio of 6-foot-5-inch players, NIOC established a strong presence in the paint to take a 27-14 lead at halftime and never looked back.
“We got to remember that season starts all over,” said Senior Chief Cryptologic Technician (Collection) Christopher Webb, who is in his first season as head coach. “It’s all about getting into the groove, come out, play strong and play our style of basketball.”
In the first half, post-players Senior Airman Sean Caddell and Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 2nd Class Quentin Leathers set the pace by controling the boards and dominating the paint on offense.
Up by only five points, Leathers threw down a thunderous slam, which was followed by a basket and two free throws from Caddell to go up 21-10 with 2:10 remaining in the half.
While two free throws from Bulls’ guard Staff Sgt. Brian Sanders stopped the run, NIOC outscored their opponent, 6-2, to finish off the first half.
As if the twin towers of Leathers and Caddell didn’t cause enough damage to the Bulls, reserve Cryptologic Technician (Interpretive) 3rd Class Michael Wald, another 6-5 skyscraper, came off the bench to toss in four points before halftime.
In the second half, the Bulls came out to score the first three points and held NIOC without a basket for nearly three minutes.
However, NIOC cured their post-halftime swoon by going back to the inside where Leathers deposited a lay-up with 14:42 remaining in the game to get the team back on track.
Although the Bulls crept to within nine points on two occasions in the second half, that was as close as the team would get.
Keeping a close eye on the flow of the game, Webb substituted freely during the entire contest while maintaining a torrid full-court press.
Webb made sure that every member of the 24-man squad got playing time to ensure that the team would have fresh legs on the court at every minute.
While the continuous substitutions might have created lulls in the team’s offensive attack, Webb said, he felt it was necessary to get everyone involved.
“We always try to play as much players as possible,” Webb said. “I was in transition a lot to get the players to be able to play together.”
A total of nine players got on the scoreboard for NIOC, which was led by Caddell and Leathers with 13 points each.
Meanwhile, no player on the Bulls managed to score in double digits against NIOC’s pressure defense.
“We need to remember that we got off to a slow start last season,” said Bulls point guard Airman 1st Class Jurel Burton, who pointed out that the team finished last year’s regular season with a 12-2 record. “It’s all about getting into the groove. We need to come out, play strong and play our style of basketball.”
Webb said that while he told his players to forget about the past, the goal is still the same as in the last two years.
“Our goal is to repeat, but it’s going to be tough,” Webb said. “With our talent and motivation, we expect to be there in the end.”