EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Jimmy Howard, 96th Medical Group coach, looks for an open player during the 2010 Eglin Intramural Basketball Championship in the fitness center, March 17. The 96th Medical Group was crowned champions after beating LRS, 61-55. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – KB Bouers, 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron, shoots a free throw during the 2010 Eglin Intramural Basketball Championship at the fitness center, March 17. The 96th Medical Group was crowned champions after beating LRS, 61-55. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – A player from the 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron goes up for the lay up during the 2010 Eglin Intramural Basketball Championship in the fitness center, March 17. The 96th Medical Group was crowned champions after beating LRS, 61-55. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A player from the 96th Medical Group shoots a three-pointer during the 2010 Eglin Intramural Basketball Championship at the fitness center, March 17. The 96th Medical Group was crowned champions after beating LRS, 61-55. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings)
by Airman 1st Class Anthony Jennings
Team Eglin Public Affairs
3/22/2010 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 96th Medical Group was crowned 2010 Eglin Intramural Basketball Champions after beating the 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron in a heated, two-game battle at the fitness center, March 16.
The two teams met early in the playoffs and a Med Group upset put the LRS team in the loser's bracket. However, they fought their way to the championship round and were eager for payback.
The LRS team, undefeated in the regular season, was now considered the underdog in the match up. They had to beat the Med Group twice to clinch the championship. The Med Group came into the playoffs ranked fourth and a 4-4 season record.
In the first game, LRS jumped to a six-point lead with slick passes, which kept the ball moving and the Med Group on the defensive.
For most of the half, the LRS team dominated the courts. The Med Group couldn't find their rhythm and missed several opportunities to score. The first half ended with Med Group trailing 34-18.
"We had too many mental lapses," said Jimmy Howard, Med Group coach. "We were missing wide open threes and layups. We just lost it mentally."
LRS' momentum carried over into the second half as they capitalized on rebounds, moved the ball down court and scored with a mix of three-pointers and drives to the hole. LRS won easily 58-44.
"I feel like I let my team down the first game," said Wendell Thibeaux, Med Group's top scorer.
It came down to the second game. Whoever won would clinch the championship title.
"It's hard to be the best every game," said Howard. "We beat them the first time [in the playoffs] and put them in the loser bracket, but we saw how good of a team they were, so it wasn't a shocker that they won the first game."
Going into the second game, the tension between both teams was starkly different. The LRS seemed confident after their first win and looked to clinch the title with the same effortlessness. The Med Group however, looked more determined than ever which was evident on their stern faces.
"We came out to win the second game," said Howard. "We turned up our intensity level defensively. I always told my team defense wins games. Offense sells tickets. You're not going to score every single time so you have to make sure you protect the hole on your side of the court."
The beginning of the second game started off the same as the first with LRS jumping to an early lead. The Med Group held their reserve and managed to even the score down the stretch.
The remainder of the half was a battle for the lead. At the three-minute mark, the score was 22-21. The Med Group amped up their intensity and lead with scores from Jamaal Jones and Thibeaux. They increased their lead over LRS, closing the first half 27-21.
"The second game, we forced them to play into us instead of us playing into them," Howard said. "We shot more accurately and defended the hole more aggressively."
For the first five minutes of the second half, Med Group dominated and held a 13 point lead over LRS with 15 minutes left.
LRS, known for comebacks, kept in the game and scored 13 unanswered points in five minutes to tie the game back up, 40-40.
Fouls plagued LRS's rhythm, however, and opened opportunities for Med Group to score easy buckets with free-throws. Thibeaux went to the free-throw line four times in the second half and didn't miss a single shot.
With 1:15 left, LRS trailed by two, 57-55. Another Med Group field-goal and two more free throws locked up the win for the Med Group and a base championship. The score was 61-55.
"It was a combination of things," said Stanton Simmons, LRS coach. "We missed a lot of free-throws and didn't communicate well so I feel the better team won today."
Thibeaux, Med Group's leading scorer, was happy with the way his team played and was relieved to walk off the court as the victors.
"It always feels good to say we are the champions," he said.