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Carmen's Crew sluggishly takes first game

Despite looking blasé in the first 18 minutes, No. 1 seeded Carmen’s Crew used a second half spark to overcome an anemic first half to dispatch No. 16 seed Mid American Unity, 77-65, in the first round of The Basketball Tournament on Friday night in the Covelli Center.


The Crew ultimately pulled it together in their bid to repeat as TBT champs after winning it all two years ago.


Center Kosta Koufos hit two clutch free throws to end the game and finished with one of the team’s two double-doubles with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Guard William Buford had the other with 14 points and 10 boards. Guard David Lighty, Jr. led all scorers with 19 points.


Mid American guard Jimmy Hall, Jr. led them with 10 points and chipped in six rebounds.


However, after taking home the trophy in 2019, the defending champs found themselves not only as the No. 1 overall seed in last year’s 24-team tourney but within the comfy confines of their backyard as the entire tournament was held in Columbus. That didn’t seem to matter, though, as they promptly dropped their first game to No. 16 House of ‘Paign, 76-68.


And in what should have been a blowout from the beginning against another 16-seed, the top-seeded Crew’s start against Mid American instead began as a potential upset as they looked poised to once again drop their first round game against a 16-seed after Friday night’s first half was knotted at 37’s.


Carmen’s Crew looked more like a sloppy drunk slip-sliding all over the dance floor while sloshing their adult beverage onto many more sober patrons of the establishment.


When the buzzer sounded to conclude the first half, Carmen’s Crew had committed 10 turnovers to three assists while Mid American had dished 10 dimes to six turnovers.


At that point, Sullinger had had enough and gave his crew what-for in the locker room.


“I told them to quit turning the f… ball over,” he said stopping short of actually using the f-word.


So instead of imbibing on several more drinks, the Crew knocked back a few cups of coffee, sobered up and came out on an 18-6 run in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter to take a 55-43 lead with 4:40 remaining, which was their largest lead of the game at that point.


But MAU would not go away lightly as they continued to scrap with the Crew and went on an 8-2 run after three pointers by guards D.J. Cooper and former Buckeye Ron Lewis and a layup by Kevin Capers chipped down the lead to six, 57-51, with 2:24 to go in the third.


After Crew forward Julian Mavunga made a flailing, reverse, up-and-under layup off the glass, a Lighty three was sandwiched in between MAU forward Nick Harney’s own layup and two free throws to make it 62-55 Crew with one minute left.


And then Buford hit an even wilder shot to end the quarter when he snagged Keyshawn Woods’ missed three with only five seconds left and proceeded to drill a turnaround, fadeaway, 16-footer to end the quarter and gave the Crew a 64-55 lead.


After former Buckeye and Toledo Rocket J.D. Weatherspoon crammed a dunk within the first 30 seconds of the fourth quarter to pull MAU within seven, both teams hit a shooting slump and wouldn’t see a point scored until Crew forward Jeff Gibbs knocked down two free throws to push their lead back to nine, 66-57, with just under five minutes to play.


At the 3:46 mark, the Crew called a timeout and at that point, the Elam Ending was instituted as it is for all games in the tournament.


The Elam Ending is a rule that states with four minutes or less remaining in the game, the play clock is turned off and eight points is a “magic number” “added” to the leading team’s score and is what both teams strive to get to to win. The Crew led 69-62 so the “magic number” for either team was 77.


Lighty immediately dropped in a layup coming out of the timeout and after that, it became the Kosta Koufos show for Carmen’s Crew.


The 7-foot center stuffed Capers on the other end and Crew guard Shannon Scott scooped up the loose ball, dribbled down the court and found Koufos cutting straight down the lane which he dished back to Koufos who finished off the play with a thunderous one-handed dunk.


That made it 73-62 and then Koufos followed it up with a lay-in to bring the Crew to within two points of securing the victory.


However, Koufos would foul MAU center Demetrius “Tree” Treadwell, who missed the back end of a two-shot foul, but the miss was rebounded and followed up with a lay-in by Harney to bring Mid American to within ten, 75-65.


But Cooper managed to hack Koufos in the lane and that’s when the former Buckeye star center calmly iced both free throws to send Carmen’s Crew to the second round.


When asked if getting the “W” on Friday night finally meant that their championship hangover was over, Lighty laughed alongside head coach Jared Sullinger and said he certainly hoped so.


“That first half we seemed a little tipsy so I hope it’s all out of our system now. We got our feet wet and hopefully we can get it rolling now.”


Carmen's Crew finished with 14 turnovers to eight assists while Mid American Unity ended with 14 assists to nine turnovers.


MAU players and former Buckeyes Weatherspoon and Lewis finished with four and six points, respectively, while Gahanna native and former Michigan State forward Jevon Bess had eight.


The Crew's next game will be on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. in the Covelli Center against the Purdue-based, No. 8-seed Men of Mackey.

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