By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
Trailing by a basket at half-time, the 324th Intelligence Squadron (324 IS) Tigers) rallied in the second half to come from behind and defeat the 647th Civil Engineer Squadron (647 CES) Bulls, 45-34, Feb. 18 in a matchup of Red Division intramural basketball teams at Hickam Fitness Center, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
With the win, the Tigers captured their fourth game in a row and grabbed sole possession of first place over Navy Information Operations Command (NIOC) Hawaii, which remained at 3-0 after an idle week.
Meanwhile, the hard-luck Bulls lost their third game of the season with no wins. Two of the team’s losses were absorbed after the Bulls held leads going into the second half.
“The other team came out really strong,” said 324 IS head coach Cryptologic Technician (Collection) 3rd Class Ryan Shirley about the Tigers slow start. “They forced us to change our game plan. We had to play smart basketball. We came out a little slow, a little rocky, but ultimately, we got it together.”
Up at 19-17 heading into the second half, the Bulls immediately increased their lead to four at 21-17 on a basket by Bulls point guard Airman 1st Class Jurel Burton.
Instead of folding, the 324 IS stepped up to the challenge and finally caught the Bulls at 22-22 on a lay-up by Tech. Sgt. Tim Harris with 12:36 remaining on the clock.
Then, on the next trip down the court, the Tigers pulled ahead for only the second time in the game on a long-range jumper from beyond the three-point arc by Senior Airman Jonathan Bates.
“That was a sigh of relief, not just for myself, but for the players also,” Shirley said. “From that point on it was 0-0 again and we could just play basketball.
After the clutch shot by Bates, the 324 IS got even more support from the perimeter, when Senior Airman A.J. Abdul sank his second three-pointer of the game to stretch out the Tigers’ lead to six at 28-22.
Clinging to a five-point lead with 5:00 showing on the clock, the Tigers finally put the Bulls away by scoring the next five points on a trey by Senior Airman Raymond Garay-Paravisini and a lay-up by Harris.
In gaining the win, the Tigers got balanced scoring throughout their lineup as a total of 10 players posted points for the team. Leading the way was Harris with 17 points.
While the Tigers offense eventually got on track, Shirley said that it was the team’s defense that stole the show in the second half by shutting down the Bulls inside the paint.
Forward Staff Sgt. Joe Gannon helped the Bulls gain the early upper hand by controlling the boards and scoring eight points in the first half, but he was shut out by the Tigers defense after intermission.
“Our focus was we had to communicate,” Shirley said. “They wanted to get the ball inside and look to kick it out. So we had to get down, force Gannon to make bad decisions. Once we put the pressure on him, that’s what he did.”
Gannon credited the Tigers for making adjustments in the second half but also added that the Bulls ran out of gas after arriving with only six players.
“In the second half, it really started to hurt because they went ‘man’ on us,” said Gannon, who also pointed out that reinforcements are coming in the next couple of weeks. “Having only six players on the team is hard to keep running because there’s no subs. It definitely showed that a lack of people hurt us today.”
While Shirley said that the perfect record puts a bulls-eye squarely on the back of the team’s jerseys, he believes that the Tigers will continue to play winning basketball.
“There’s no added pressure,” said Shirley about the team’s spotless record. “We expected this when we came in. But we do know that from here on out, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot because they want to take what we have.”