August 2, 2018
By Morgan Wenger
With the 2018 Top Dawg division comprised of four tournament newcomers and the top two teams from last year, another best of three finals series between the Canton Ballers and OAC seemed almost inevitable. That’s why they play the games though. The new teams started the tourney off hopeful at the prospect of knocking off one of the tournament favorites and launching themselves into the 13th year tournament’s final round.
The winner’s bracket started off with quarterfinal matchups between the Flint Tropics and Tune Squad and Black Crown and the Canton Ballers. The first game seemed to have a game within the game between Cole Farriss and Cody Steiner. Farriss led his Tune Squad team to a convincing 30-21 victory in the opening round with 17 points. Farriss and Gibson Siegrist combined for five three pointers to advance to the semifinal round of the winner’s bracket. Steiner scored 15 of his team’s 21 points in defeat. Any thought of the elder Canton Ballers squad finally succumbing to age were quickly put to rest in their first game. The eight-time tournament champions were too much for Black Crown. Mario Edwards did most of the damage for the winners as he hit five shots from behind the arc en route to 17 points in the 30-13 win.
The winner’s bracket semifinals then pitted OAC against Tune Squad with the Canton Ballers facing the young Shooting Stars squad. Gibson Siegrist proved that his shooting in the first game was merely a warmup for what happened in this round as he poured in 17 points to keep his team close most of the way. Jarrett Ruffin was simply too much inside, however, and OAC rode a balanced attack to a 30-24 triumph. Ruffin and Josh Keyes scored 20 of the 30 points for OAC. Canton punched their ticket to the winner’s bracket finals with a convincing 30-18 win over the Shooting Stars. Tournament veteran Tim Vandervaart was simply too much for the Shooting Stars to handle inside as he scored 14 points to lead his team to the semifinal win. Jalen Wenger made two three pointers as part of his 10 points for the Shooting Stars.
This left one final game in the winner’s bracket between OAC and the Canton Ballers. The winner was assured quality rest before the finals while the loser would have to play at least two more games to get to the championship round. Not unlike their matchups from a year ago, this game was hotly contested from the start. OAC was going through their big man, Jarrett Ruffin, while DeAllen Jackson started producing with his drives to the hoop. Canton countered with Angelo Edwards scoring from inside and outside. The stoutly built Edwards scored 14 points to help his team sneak out a 30-27 win. Angelo and Mario Edwards combined for seven three pointers in the victory, overcoming 14 points from OAC’s Jarrett Ruffin. Although the tournament field was thinner and the weather cooler compared to some of the past tournaments, the win benefited the shorthanded Canton squad with some additional rest before the championship series after they lost Evan Pannell to an earlier injury.
The first round of the loser’s bracket pitted Black Crown against the Shooting Stars while the Flint Tropics and Tune Squad got reacquainted with each other. Black Crown wasted little time with the Shooting Stars as William Buckley scored 21 points in their 30-18 win. The Flint Tropics turned the tables on Tune Squad on the other side of the bracket, with Cody Steiner turning in a virtuoso 20-point performance to lead his team to a 30-15 win. Black Crown continued its strong play in the next game, besting the Flint Tropics 30-19 with Quan Thompson nailing three three-point shots as part of his 13-point total. Cody Steiner led his team with 10 points in the 30-19 defeat.
Teams typically start to play with more desperation in the elimination bracket, and the Shooting Stars were no exception. After falling behind Tune Squad early on, Jalen Wenger and Michael Bova began to heat up offensively for the Shooting Stars. Bova sank four three pointers and Wenger added another two as both players scored 14 points to help keep their team alive with a 30-24 win. Tune Squad was paced by 12 points from Cole Farriss. The Flint Tropics were next up for the Shooting Stars, and they proved to be more equal to the challenge. Jalen Wenger and Cody Steiner took turns going at each other as each player scored often from inside and out. Bryce Husted scored 10 points to help the Flint Tropics move on with a 30-21 win. Steiner led Flint with 14 points while Wenger scored a game high 15 points for the Shooting Stars.
After dropping into the loser’s bracket, OAC got their first look at Black Crown. Perhaps motivated by their winner’s bracket final loss, OAC wasted little time in dispatching of Black Crown 30-10. Josh Keyes led a balanced OAC attack with 12 points. This left a final elimination bracket game; a rematch between the Flint Tropics and Black Crown. This edition was much more spirited and competitive, with Bryce Husted continuing to add scoring support for Cody Steiner. The two combined for 25 points, but Black Crown was still able to escape with a 30-27 win on the strength of Quan Thompson’s 19 points. Black Crown then got another crack at OAC and responded with a much better effort this time around. In the end, OAC was too much again as DeAllen Jackson poured in 17 points to lead his team into the championship series with a 30-18 triumph.
The best of three championship series began the same way the winner’s bracket final went for the Canton Ballers and OAC. Hard fought games with incredible shooting from deep by the Canton Ballers. Mario Edwards led the charge this time around by making five three pointers for his game high total of 15 points. When OAC would put more pressure on the perimeter shots, Canton would go inside to Tim Vandervaart. Vandervaart delivered 12 points using his typical array of post moves and finishes around the rim to either score or get fouled. Jarrett Ruffin and Josh Keyes each scored nine points to keep their team close, but Canton put the 30-26 game away at the end for a 1-0 series lead.
Facing the same 1-0 series deficit as they did a year earlier against the same opponent might have seemed like a daunting task for OAC, but you could not tell by their play. If anything, the desperation they played with in game 2 shook the veteran Canton Ballers squad some. Malik Billingsly and DeAllen Jackson noticeably picked up their perimeter defense in game 2. Jackson also started assaulting the paint area with bruising drives leading to opportunities in the paint or at the free throw line. Behind Allen’s 15 points, OAC built a big lead and cruised to a 30-20 game 2 victory to draw even in the best of three series. Josh Keyes added nine points for the winners. Angelo Edwards led the Canton Ballers in defeat with 14 points. Mario Edwards, after hurting OAC in the first two meetings, was held scoreless in game 2.
With the $2,000 prize on the line in game 3, the pace was at a fever pitch right from the start. OAC’s strategy had clearly shifted away from the inside game, as they continually put the ball in DeAllen Jackson’s hands to go directly at the typically lockdown defense of Angelo Edwards. The strategy continued to pay dividends as OAC built a 14-6 lead as the game entered the halfway point. Allen was finishing with great efficiency inside and making every single free throw when he was fouled; going toe to toe with the physical Angelo Edwards and more than holding his own. Angelo Edwards, not to be outdone, stepped up and hit two three pointers in a three possession span to put his team right back in the game trailing 22-20. Mario Edwards soon followed with another three pointer to put Canton in front 23-22 as the game hit the stretch run. Josh Keyes made a couple of key shots as Canton’s defense stiffened with the tournament title in the balance. Canton was now loading up on Allen’s drives, making it tough for the bruising guard to find any lanes to get inside. Baskets were not coming easy for either team with the game in its stretch run. A Vandervaart tip in off his own miss put Canton ahead late in the game, and a nifty post move that resulted in a foul gave Vandervaart a chance to clinch the series at the line. Vandervaart had struggled mightily at the line all day long; even opting to take the ball out instead of shooting free throws at times. With a chance to seal the deal, he calmly went to the line and sank the game winning free throw to secure Canton’s fifth straight tournament title. Mario Edwards led the champions with 13 points in the final game, with brother Angelo chipping in with 10. Jackson led all scorers with a game high 15 points for OAC. Mario Edwards was named the tournament MVP.
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