If you weren't lucky enough to be in DC for Kenner League this weekend, you still had the chance for a refresher dose of Georgetown Hoyas playing hoops in today's first matchup of The Basketball Tournament's (TBT) Elite 8. Team City of Gods, featuring Chris Wright and Mike Sweetney, overcame a double-digit second half deficit to beat The Untouchables, a squad comprised almost exclusively of Pitt alumni, by a final score of 86-79.
The Untouchables had already faced a team loaded with Big East foes; they eliminated Boeheim's Army in the previous round. It was a tough contest, which is to be expected when there is a $2 million, winner-take-all cash prize on the line. Team City of Gods fell in the Final 4 of TBT last year and the intensity in this game demonstrated that they clearly remembered the disappointment of that loss.
From the opening tip, this was hard-fought, physical game. It was a reunion for the Big East Class of 2011, as Chris Wright was on the court facing off against a backcourt featuring Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. The two teams traded the lead early in the first half and fought for every basket. Wright opened the scoring for City of Gods on an easy layup, marking almost the last time any player was allowed to drive to the basket without contact.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu, a George Washington University alumnus who now works for the NBA Players Association, was a strong inside presence for the good guys. If that name sounds familiar, it's because Mensah-Bonsu played at Kenner League, most memorably in 2009 where he was an All-Star alongside some other memorable names - Jeff Green and Kevin Durant. A no-look, behind-the-back pass to Wright midway through the first half gave City of Gods the lead and reminded Fran Fraschilla of Wayne Gretzky.
Unfortunately, this was the last advantage City of Gods would have for a significant period of time. The Untouchables' disruptive defense kicked into a higher gear that would surely make Jamie Dixon proud. As the Pitt alumni were running a very small lineup, with Gary McGhee their only player over 6'6", Mike Sweetney did not see any playing time as he had in the Super 16. The reigning Northeast Regional champs were facing down another premature exit as they missed 8 of 9 shots heading into the break and were on the bad end of a 13-point deficit. That type of scoring drought is all too familiar to Hoya fans. Focus and good looks were simply not translating into buckets for City of Gods. Wright had seven early points, but their most dependable scorers, Drexel University's Phil Goss and Northern Illinois product Xavier Silas, were unable to find the bottom of the net.
City of Gods came out for the second half with a high level of intensity, which Coach Joe Connolly III reminded his guys to maintain during breaks in play. Their discipline and patience paid off; The Untouchables' lead was slowly erased. Forward James White, a Cincinnati alum, forced and frustrated the Pitt guards into turnovers with disruptive hands and good positioning. Mensah-Bonsu came up with a huge block just before the under-4 media break. But it was the smallest guy on the court, Texas Southern's Omar Strong, who played the largest role in the comeback. A couple of threes and a drawn foul off Wanamaker brought City of Gods to within 5. Finally, capping a 15-6 run for City of Gods, Xavier Silas regained the form he has shown throughout TBT, nailing a long three to tie it up at 68.
The teams traded baskets from that point onward, though The Untouchables were never again able to regain the lead. Up 80-79 with 36.9 left, City of Gods had a full shot clock and the ball. Instead of a risky pass toward the basket, Wright inbounded into the backcourt. Goss dribbled inside then kicked it into the corner for a smooth Xavier Silas 3 over Gilbert Brown. That crucial basket made it a two possession game.
The officiating throughout TBT has followed FIBA rules and games looked more like classic Big East battles than the current college landscape. Referee Clarence Armstrong was doing his best impression of a preschool teacher as the game became more physical and the players more vocal. "Keep your hands to yourself!" and "You walk over there. Now." were frequently heard over the mic.
This attempt to maintain order culminated in the chastisement of Gilbert Brown who had been questioning every play & call, even ones he wasn't involved in. Emotional outbursts were not tolerated and Phil Goss of Gods picked up a Technical foul for spiking the ball after a steal with 8.9 seconds remaining. Luckily for City of Gods, Demarr Johnson missed both shots; at the other end, City of Gods converted theirs.
Wright was defending Levance Fields after the inbounds, keeping his hands active while giving Fields nowhere to go and forcing Gilbert Brown to put up a somewhat rushed three that was off the mark. (Note: That sentence evokes a strong sense of deja vu and may have previously appeared on this blog circa 2010.) Mensah-Bonsu collected the rebound, got fouled, and The Untouchables could do nothing when they regained possession with less than 2 seconds remaining. City of Gods shot nearly 70% from the field in the second half to claim the victory - and a spot in the Final Four.
What's next for our Hoya alumni and the rest of the team? The semifinal games will take place next weekend in NYC, hosted by Fordham University in the Roseville Gym. City of Gods will face last years TBT Champions, #2 seed Overseas Elite. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm on Saturday 7/30, and it will be airing live on ESPN.
I leave you with these words from Austin Freeman. Hoya Saxa:
I don't see anyone beating City of Gods— Austin Freeman (@_SugarFree5) July 23, 2016
Final Box Score:
A little background on The Basketball Tournament:
What is it? The third-annual, single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament where 64 teams vie for a chance to take home a $2 million cash prize.
Where & when is it held? The first and second rounds are held at regional sites (Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago). The Super 16 and Elite 8 matchups happen over the course of two days at Philadelphia University. The Final Four (semifinals) and Championship are hosted by Fordham University, happening on Saturday 7/30 and Tuesday 8/2.
Who can participate? Players must be over the age of 18. Teams are voted in and must submit a roster of 11 players. Much like Kenner League, however, not all of these individuals are necessarily in the building or on the court for all contests.
How can I attend? There are tickets available on TBT's website.
Why do I care? Georgetown Forever, people. Besides...you're reading a college basketball website in JULY. Let's not kid ourselves here.