Spartans, Bears to play for B4A title

Baylor aiming for second title; MSU looking to avenge 2016 loss

The Michigan State Spartans was the first team to book its ticket into the championship game of the 10th Battle 4 Atlantis (B4A) Men’s Tournament, gliding past the University of Connecticut (UConn) Huskies, 64-60, inside the Imperial Arena at Atlantis, Paradise Island, yesterday.

The event, now sponsored by Bad Boy Mowers, included a women’s tournament for the first time, this year. In a matchup between the top two teams in the nation, the number one ranked South Carolina Gamecocks turned back UConn to win that inaugural title.

In the men’s tournament, the Spartans will meet the defending national champions and number six team in the nation in the Baylor University Bears in the championship game at 11 a.m. today – a rematch of their 2016 B4A semifinal contest in which the Bears won 73-58 and went on to win their first B4A title. The championship game today will be televised on ESPN.

For the Spartans, in their semifinal game, it was a tale of two halves as they came out aggressively, and led by as much as 14 points in the first half, before faltering a bit in the second half. The number 22 ranked Huskies came storming back, taking the lead and pulling ahead by as much as seven before the Spartans executed one last-ditch effort to regain the lead and come out on top.

The Bears knocked off the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams in their semifinal contest, winning 69-61. The Bears trailed for just the opening 1:48 of the game. When they got the lead, they never looked back.

In the other semifinal game, Spartans led by 14 points in the first, then came back in the second after the Huskies stormed ahead.

The Spartans are unranked in the Associated Press’ Top 25 Rankings, but are off to a 5-1 start this season and now have a chance to take home their first Battle 4 Atlantis title. The Huskies suffered its first loss of the season, dropping to a 5-1 win/loss record.

Being up against a higher ranked team didn’t stop the Spartans from taking it to their opponents and pushing the tempo yesterday.

They scored the first six points of the game and eventually took their first double-digit lead of the game, 21-10, on a jumper by freshman guard Pierre Brooks at the 9:10 mark of the first half. The Huskies got to within seven points, 21-14, on a Tyrese Martin jumper but the Spartans went on an 11-4 scoring run from there to open their largest lead of the game, 32-18. However, the Spartans went scoreless in the final three and a half minutes of the first half, and the Huskies crept back to within 32-24 at the break.

The Spartans increased the lead back to double digits early in the second half, but the Huskies proved that they had plenty fight left in them as they climaxed a 14-3 run with an emphatic dunk from Martin to pull even at 41 at the 15:16 mark. The Spartans maintained control until the Huskies took their first lead of the game about seven and a half minutes later. They pulled ahead 49-48 on a three-point shot from R.J. Cole at the 7:47 mark.

The Huskies kept the pressure on and led by as many as seven, 55-48, before the Spartans gained a sense of urgency. They stayed within striking distance, pulling to within a single point, 60-59, with 1:07 remaining on a layup from Julius Marble II. The Spartans regained the lead on two free shots from A.J. Hoggard with 31 seconds remaining in the game and went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe the rest of the way to preserve the win.

The Huskies went 0-for-3 from the field and had a turnover in the final minute of the game.

Senior forward Gabe Brown paced the Spartans with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Junior forward Julius Marble II came off the bench to add 15 points and four rebounds.

Sophomore forward Adama Sanogo had a game-high 18 points and added 10 boards and six blocks for UConn. Senior guard Martin contributed 16 points and 12 rebounds, and senior guard Cole scored 10 points and added three assists.

In the other semifinal game, the undefeated Bears improved to 6-0 and the Rams dropped to 3-3.

Matthew Mayer made a three-pointer at the 18:12 mark of the opening half to tie the game at three, and after he sunk two free shots 17 seconds later, they never trailed again. They led by as many as 11. The closest the Rams got to the Bears in the second half was four points, the final time being 65-61 with just 16 seconds remaining. The Bears hit four out of four free shots down the stretch to ice the game.

Senior guard Mayer paced the Bears with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists and two steals. Freshman guard Kendall Brown had 14 points and five rebounds, and junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua came off the bench to score 13 points and added eight rebounds.

Senior forward Vince Williams Jr. led the Rams with 17 points and added five assists, three rebounds and two steals. Senior forward Levi Stockard III added 13 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.

The Rams and UConn will play in the third-place game at 1:30 p.m. today.

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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