Collection of Nome All-Star Alumni downs Anchorage squad in LOIBC Men’s A Division OT thriller
The Nome Recreation Center parking lot was so full on Saturday evening prior to the championship game of the Men’s A Division at the 43rd Annual Lonnie O’Connor Iditarod Basketball Classic that cars and trucks were spilling out into the adjacent roadway arteries. Inside, extra chairs were brought down from the balcony to accommodate the standing-room only crowd of basketball fans celebrating a full week of tournament match-ups at the NRC.
Fortunately, those in attendance for the fifth and final divisional championship game of the day did not leave for the concessions stand early. They may have been tempted to, however, since the halftime score showed that the Eskimo Brothers, a team of mostly Nome-Beltz grads, were poised to turn the contest against the Anchorage-based Expendables into a route by jumping out to a commanding 59-47 lead.
Both teams traded buckets is the early stages of the second half and the score stood at 71-59 at the 13:09 mark when the Eskimos shooting went stone cold. A bucket by Joe Coffee at the 10:49 mark helped cap an 8-0 Expendables run and whittled the Eskimos lead down to four at 71-67.
The Eskimos couldn’t score on the possession following a play where Christian Leckband caused a turnover by taking a charge. The Expendables, instead, got the ball into the hands of the red-hot Adam Lewis, who put in a three-pointer to bring his crew to within one. Several possessions later, Lewis connected on his third three-pointer of the fourth quarter to tie the score at 76 with 6:44 to play.
That’s about the time Lewis tagged off to teammate Mike Reed, who scored the next nine Expendables points off three treys. The Eskimo Brothers responded by utilizing their own long-range specialists. After a solo three by Jesse Blandford and a pair from behind the arc by Klay Baker, the score was knotted at 85-85 with the clock reading 1:48.
A soft floating jumper by Barrow-native Tyler Adams helped reestablish the Eskimos lead at the 1:29 mark, but Reed helped wrestle the lead back for the Expendables with less than a minute to play by connecting on yet another three-point bomb. Sky Davis scored his only points of the fourth quarter when he connected on a pair of free throws to extend the Expendables lead to 90-87.
With time running out on his team, Leckband made a nifty move to his left under the basket and was fouled as he hit the shot. The ensuing free throw, the only one in the second half by the Eskimos, would preserve a 90-90 tie, and set the tone for the overtime period.
The Eskimos were the first to strike in extra time as Adams nailed a three-pointer. Another three by Blandford sent the crowd into a frenzy, brought the lead to 96-92, and forced the Expendables to begin fouling after missed shots.
What Leckband started in the final minutes of regulation, his teammates continued in the overtime period. His squad had a perfect free throw percentage on 8-for-8 shooting from the charity stripe down the stretch and came away with a 104-95 Men’s A Division victory.
Adams, who hit seven three-pointers in the first half, and all four of his overtime free throws, led the way for the Eskimos with 30 points. Blandford and Baker contributed 25 and 24 respectively. Coffey was the Expendables high scorer with 28 points. Reed and Lewis chipped in 21 and 19 respectively. Jesse Blandford of Eskimo Brothers received the Men’s A Charlie Hungerford MVP Award.
The bulk of the Eskimos players graduated from Nome-Beltz between the years of 2007 and 2015. After the game Baker and Blandford explained that this was the first time they had all played together as a team. “We jelled really quickly, because we’ve all played in the same system,” said Baker alluding to the fact that most of the team had played on units coached by Pat Callahan during their Nanook years.
“This is our second time,” said the Expendables’ Reed after the game referencing the number of times his team has attended the LOIBC. He explained that his crew has one player from Fairbanks, but the rest hail from Anchorage. “We play in tournaments all over the state,” he said. “We love the atmosphere (at the LOIBC), the best tournament in the state.”
Other Division Winners
The Men’s A Division game capped off a full slate of championship match-ups. The day started off with the Yellowfooters defeating Lindsey’s Shop 83-65 for the Men’s Over 35 Division crown. Toby Tobuk scored a game-high 23 points for the Yellowfooters, and received the division’s MVP Award. Donald Weyanna put in 21 for Lindsey’s.
While Bering Air led Beahs 27-20 at the half in the Women’s B Division final, they pulled away down the stretch for a 63-48 victory. Helen Bruns led all scorers with 28 points for Bering Air and earned the Women’s B MVP Award. Donna Pushruk was a force for Beahs and scored a team-high 18 points.
The Men’s B Division Championship featured two village-based teams. Kotlik found the bottom of the net early and often as they poured in 110 points. Gambell scored in bunches as well, but fell short with 88 points. The two-pronged attack of Brandon Okitkun, 39 points, and Jason Fancyboy, 38 points, accounted for the bulk of Kotlik’s scoring. Okitkun was presented the MVP Award. Kotlik hit the century-mark in four of its five tournament games. Carl Seetot led Gambell with 23 points.
RJ’s Ninjas outlasted Little Louie’s 81-64 in the Ladies Open Division finale. Little Louie’s kept it close with a halftime score of 37-37. Shayla Johnson of RJ’s was on fire after the intermission. Her 23 second-half points nearly outscored the entire Little Louie’s squad after the break. Johnson’s game-high 37 points led the Ninjas to a 81-64 win. She earned the MVP Award in her division. Nicole Pingayak paced Louie’s with 28 points.
LOIBC organizer Kim Gooden said the tournament choose a different path this year in who it payed tribute to. “Normally we honor people that have been part of the tournament that have passed on,” she said. “This year we honored the Nome Volunteer Fire Department. 2017 is the 80th year for the Fire Department.”
“This year we had 39 teams,” said Gooden. “We had three late nights where the games got done between midnight and one. This year we had a lot of close, great basketball games.”