The Michigan Mustang 15's did not come home with any hardware from North Carolina but the trip was still successful, however the Stangs did come home wondering "what if"?
Both starting wings Brandan Kearney and Matt Poches missed most of tournament with injuries but credit has to be given to the rest of the roster because they did a heck of a job of carrying the slack.
First off I would like to take a few lines to tell my boys how proud I am of them. As a team we constantly hear rumors of how this team has too many "stars" and that teams with so many "stars" can't build any team chemistry. This team has quickly built a brother hood that is rarely found in AAU basketball. These guys believe in each other and they all sacrifice playing times and points for the goodness of the team. In just a few months these boys have banded together to build something special.
The Stangs instantly took a hit during warm-ups of their first game when they realized that Kearney would not be healthy enough to play. The team captain still managed to fire up his team and the rest of the guys responded by jumping out to a 10 point lead over Carolina Raptors Select. The Raptors fought back to cut the lead down to two at the half.
In the second half Carolina got up by as many as 14 points. Kearney couldn't watch any more from the bench and decided it was time to play, even at 50%. Kearney instantly gave his team some much needed confidence and the run was on. In just a a couple of minutes Kearney produced 8 points and 3 assist. The short minutes were painful and Kearney was forced to come back out but he had done more than enough for his team. Juwan Moody helped tie the game with a 3-pointer and Pierre Brackett's steal and bucket gave the Stangs the lead for good with 2:30 to play. The Mustangs finished the Raptors off at the line by hitting 5 of 6 in the game's final minute.
In the second game the Stangs stumbled against the Playaz. The Playaz have four players ranked nationally but that didn't scare the Stangs one bit. The two teams battled back and forth. Moody stole the spotlight with his 3-point shooting from downtown. Credit also has to be given to LaDonte "Buckets" Henton and Matt Poches for their ability to get to the basket and the free throw line against the Playaz. Percy Gibson also had a strong performance as he went toe to toe with the Playaz' 6-9, 275 pound big fella. A basket from Henton gave the Stangs a two point lead with a four minutes to go. Down the stretch Poches went hard to the basket and got fouled hard. A knee to the thigh took Poches out. The Stangs never regrouped and took their first loss of the tourney.
The winner of the final pool play game would advance to bracket play with the looser being put out. The Mustangs again found their self in a tight battle. Nashville started three players that all stood 6-5 and couldn't miss from 3-point range. With both Kearney and Poches on the shelf it was Henton and Moody who picked up the slack early, both finished with more than 20 points.
In the second half newly acquired Tommie McCune showed off his talents on both ends with some big baskets and blocks. The game stayed tied going into the game's final minute. That's when Ray Tillman took over. First Tillman made a huge defensive play when the Celtics tried to play for the game's final shot. Tillman forced his man into taking a bad off balanced jumper and Henton was there to secure the rebound. With 8 seconds left Tillman then finished off the Celtics with a pull up jumper in the lane to win the game.
In the quarter-finals the Mustangs met up with the New York Gaunchos. The Mustangs controlled the whole game but only had a five point lead at the half. In the second half the Gaunchos got hot and took over the lead. A powerful one hand slam from Henton kept the Stangs close but in the end the Gaunchos were able to hit free-throws to close the game out.
The Carolina experience was huge for this young Stang team. These kids could have easily gave up when injuries continued to pop up, but no! They challenged their character and regrouped as a team. They leaned on each other just like they have done all year. Below is a breakdown of individual performance from the Stangs down in Carolina.
Pierre Brackett- Pierre's came up big against the Raptors when the Stangs were down. In the game's final five minutes he had three offensive rebounds, six points, and three steals. He is by far the best defensive player in his class in Michigan and maybe the country!
Dan Chilcote- the 6-6 wing hit some big baskets including a 3-pointer against Nashville. When the Stangs lost a couple of players Chilcote helped out by playing a little guard.
Percy Gibson- got the better of every big man he matched-up against. He continues to show why he is the best big man in Michigan. Percy gave the Stangs a minimum of 10 points every game.
LaDonte Henton- "Buckets" averaged a double-double and finished third in the tournament in scoring with a 19.5 average. He played every position over the course of the weekend for the Stangs.
Dennis Hogan- At times Dennis found himself a little undersized but he continued to get the job done. His two free throws in the final 5 seconds secured the win against the Carolina Raptors.
Brandan Kearney- He has the nickname BK to go with the Burger King logo, but I'm going to take up a notch and rename him "The King". He showed his leadership and love for the game over the weekend by coming in for a few minutes when his team needed him the most. He kept his team fired up from the bench.
Tommie McCune- in his first weekend he instantly blended in with his "team first" mentality. Tommie made some huge blocks, along with some nice dunks. He also put the ball on the floor and made some nice passes from the post.
Juwan Moody- Moody must love the Carolina heat because he stayed on fire through out the whole tourney. He averaged five three-pointers a game while continuing to carry his regular point guard duties.
Matt Poches- Matt was his usual self- "a scoring machine", until he went down with his injury. He constantly tried to shake it off and play for his team but he was just hurting too much.
Ray Tillman- Tillman is showing why he is one of the best PG's in the state for his class. He played lock down defense and used his speed and body control to get to the basket. When he hit the game winning buzzer beater over Nashville he was cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Darren Washington- the big fella had his best performance against the Gaunchos with some big blocks. Darren went right at every big man he faced and did a solid job of rebounding in every game.