By Randy Dela Cruz, Ho'okele Sports Editor
The 324th Intelligence Squadron (324 IS) Tigers pulled away in the first half, but had to do it again in the second half to earn a tough victory against the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) Ballers, 39-25. The contest was played on Feb. 11 during a battle of unbeaten Red Division teams at Hickam Fitness Center, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The win kept the Tigers in a tie for first place with a record of 3-0, while JPAC dropped their first game of the season and fell to 2-1.
“I think it all starts with our defense,” said Tigers shooting guard Master Sgt. Jarrod Gates, who came up with a couple of clutch three-pointers in the first half. “We move as one unit, so even if we get down in a game, our offense is slow, our defense keeps us in. That’s really what it was all about.”
In the first minutes of the game, both teams fought back and forth with JPAC holding a slight 9-8 lead at around the 8:00 mark.
Then Gates began to warm up by knocking down a trey to put the Tigers out in front for the first time in the game at 11-9.
Although Tech. Sgt. Jorge Verlejo answered with a basket to tie the score, the deadlock was only temporary as the Tigers came back with a barrage of three-pointers to take command of the game heading into halftime.
First, back-to-back treys by Tech. Sgt. Tim Harris and Gates raised the Tigers’ lead to 20-11 before Airman 1st Class Brian Vanderpool hit another trey to complete a 12-0 run before the break.
At halftime, Ballers head coach Maurice Honeywood, a Department of Defense civilian, told his team to keep on fighting despite being down by eight points.
Honeywood said that mistakes cost the team in the first half but felt that the Ballers weren’t out of the game just yet.
“I told the team, one play at a time,” Honeywood stated. “There is no way we’re going to catch up eight points on one shot. So, one play at a time.”
The halftime speech seemed to reignite the Ballers attack as the team outscored the Tigers, 8-2, after the break and pulled to within a basket at 25-23 on a putback by Master Sgt. Rick June with 11:38 remaining in the game.
However, that was as close as the Ballers would get as the Tigers scored the next eight points to take a double-digit lead at 33-23.
Senior Airman Raymond Garay-Paravisini started the game-ending rally by scoring on a shot inside the paint.
Then two free throws by Tech. Sgt. Terrance Gist raised the lead to six before Airman 1st Class Omar Vidro slid past the defense for two lay-ups to give his team full control of the game.
Gates added another trey and Gist scored a basket to round out the final score.
“It was intensity, and our coaches put us in situations offensively to get some open looks down low,” said Gates about the team’s strong finish to close out the second half. “We were relying on the jump shot too much, so we needed to get in the paint a little bit.”
Following the game, Honeywood said that while it was a tough loss to swallow, he strongly believes that the Ballers will bounce back.
“I still think we’re still trying to blend,” he admitted. “I don’t see this as a setback. It just demonstrates that we need some work. The season is early and there’s plenty of basketball left.”
Meanwhile, Gates said that there is no secret to the Tigers’ success. They just need to keep doing what they’ve been doing all season long.
“We need to keep playing as a team, pull together defensively and just take it one game at a time,” he said.