It’s not often that nostalgia blends with shoving, trash talk and desperate dives on the floor. At The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team competition with a $2 million prize for the winners, all those elements are in play.
Philadelphia University’s Gallagher Athletic Center hosted the Super 16 Thursday night, including the first contest of the evening between No. 1 seed City of Gods (COG) and No. 5 seed Family Over Everything (FOE), which ended in a 99-83 win for COG.
Many of the teams in the tournament are comprised of alumni from one school or players from a certain region. For FOE, there was a distinct Philly flavor; Scott Rodgers (Drexel ’09), Dionte Christmas (Temple ’09) and Maalik Wayns (Villanova ‘12) all played for Philadelphia schools. Co-coaches Marcus and Markieff Morris, members of the Pistons and Wizards respectively, grew up in Philadelphia and attended Prep Charter. Two of their teammates at Kansas were also on the squad, Tyshaun Taylor and Thomas Robinson (serving as an assistant coach).
City of Gods had a much more diverse mix of players, including 2005 Drexel graduate Phil Goss. The roster included Xavier Silas, who played in two games for the Sixers during the 2011-12 season, DerMarr Johnson, the sixth overall pick in the 2000 NBA draft and Michael Sweetney, the ninth pick in the 2003 draft.
The first of two 18-minute halves started at a high tempo, even though the tournament uses a 30-second shot clock. While Wayns, Taylor and Rodgers had some early success driving to the hole, COG stifled FOE’s offensive rhythm by switching to a trapping zone defense midway through the half. As FOE began to settle for threes, missing most of those attempts, COG got hot from long range. For the game, COG shot 14 of 27 from behind the arc, and FOE shot 9 of 27.
By the end of the half, COG had a 51-40 lead. Despite the occasional sensational floater by Wayns, who scored a team-high 22 points, or 25-foot rainbow jumper by Christmas, COG’s solid fundamentals, disciplined defense and balanced scoring neutralized FOE. Six players scored in double figures for COG, including Goss with 15 points on 4 for 5 shooting from the field. Silas’ 19 points (6 of 8 FG, 3 of 4 from three-point range) led the team.
“The one thing all these guys do is sacrifice their personal game — you look at Phil Goss, he’s so consistent … maybe not flashy, maybe not something where the crowd will jump out and go crazy, but consistent,” said COG coach Joe Connelly III, a former player development coach in the NBA and the older brother of Denver Nuggets GM Tim Connelly.
The Morris twins took their coaching duties very seriously on the other sideline, drawing up plays, calling out-of-bounds sets and constantly lobbying for foul calls to the referees. It was indeed a very physical game, as the teams combined to shoot 68 free throws. If the referees had decided to be more stringent about calling fouls for contact off the ball and during the elbow-heavy exchange for every rebound, there could have been even more.
When the lead stretched to 58-42 midway through the second half, FOE began to play with a stretch of desperation. For a spurt, that was effective, as a hoop by Sean Evans capped a 15-6 run. But with their thin eight-man rotation, FOE wasn't able to sustain that energy. COG continued to spread the ball around and force turnovers as the pro-Philly crowd voiced its frustrations with the referees and the fact that FOE’s tournament run was about to end.
“The first round, FOE had a big following and we knew that was going to be in their favor, but we still believed that we were the better team,” Silas said. “This is what we do. Every game overseas, every game in the NBA, there’s going to be thousands of people yelling at you, so that wasn’t a problem. That wasn’t even a factor.”
“The fans can’t play. They can do all the chanting they want to, but they can’t step on the floor and check up,” Goss said.
If FOE’s tournament hopes weren’t already dead, Goss nailed the dagger three with 3:03 remaining to make it 89-73.
It’s not hard to see why COG is a No. 1 seed. It's a determined, talented squad. In last year’s tournament, the team lost in the semifinals.
“We were pissed off that we lost, and we still feel how we felt after that game,” Silas said. “So we got some unfinished business.”
As COG discussed its approach to the tournament after the win, power forward James Gist and Connelly had an interesting exchange.
“We go with the flow of the game and whoever is getting it done is getting it done,” Connelly said. “You think about some of these teams that are adding ringers, we got a team full of ringers.”
“We got a team full of alphas,” Gist added.
“But they’re all alpha males,” Connelly said, “who have accepted it might not be the James Gist show, or it might not be the Xavier Silas show.
“We look at the stat sheet and then just throw it right in the trash. Because all that matters is win, go on to the next game.”
City of Gods will play The Untouchables, a team of mostly Pitt alumni (see story), in a quarterfinal matchup on Saturday.