"Marines" Basketball Champs
By Matt Decker Leisure/Sports editor
| Training and Education Command | March 14, 2014
March 14, 2014 --
After finishing third in the Commander’s Cup Basketball Tournament the past two years, the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment team had their eyes set on the tournament trophy from the very start of the 2014 season.
Cheered on by hundreds of their fellow Marines, three months of effort culminated in a 44-39 victory over the 5th Engineer Battalion in the 2014 tournament championship game March 4 at Davidson Fitness Center.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Marine Det. coach Billeetae Johnson after receiving the tournament trophy from Danny Howell, Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sports specialist.
“It’s not often you can keep the same guys all season,” Johnson said. “The command support we’ve had, giving us the opportunity to stick together, has been phenomenal. It gave us the cohesiveness we needed to continue to play. When things got tough, we were able to pull it out because of that cohesiveness.”
Marcus Jensen led the Marines with 16 points, including 11 in the first half that pushed the team out to an early 12-point lead. The Marines held the lead until a late surge by the Engineers in the second half.
“Overall, it was a tough battle. We fought hard from the beginning all the way to the end. The 5th Engineers made a good comeback, but we held strong,” Jensen said.
Terrick Miller, who finished with 12 points, helped the Marines regain the lead, breaking the fourth tie of the second half with a layup to put his team ahead 41-39.
“Our hats are off to the 5th Engineers — they played a hell of a ballgame,” said Miller, who fought his way into the paint multiple times in a highly physical contest.
“The refs gave us some leeway at the beginning of the game. They let us play, so hat’s off to the refs, as well,” Miller said.
Odane Todd led the 5th Engineers with 18 points, including 12 in the second-half surge. He was the only member of the Fightin’ Fifth in double figures.
Johnson also credited the Marines’ defense for holding off the 5th Engineers in the final two minutes of play.
“We kind of got lax,” Johnson said. “Once we built a big lead, we started slowing down and not communicating. That’s how (the 5th Engineers) got back in the game, because we started giving them opportunities. We had to make sure we tightened it back up, so we switched back and forth between zone and man-to-man, just to give it a different look and slow it down. They are a really good team. They’re the same team we went into double overtime against in the regular season, so we knew we were going to come out here and have a fight on our hands.”
Jensen scored the final four points of the game with a perfect four-for-four performance at the free-throw line to seal the win.
“Free throws mean everything,” Jensen said when asked how he dealt with what most players would consider a high-pressure situation. “Practice means everything. We practice free-throws every practice, so it’s natural.”
The 5th Engineer Battalion team included members of the 50th Engineer Company team that won the Conference A regular-season title in February, and the 509th Engineer Battalion. Coach Derius Haskins said some players were initially concerned about how the combined team would do, but all fears disappeared when the Fightin’ Fifth won its tourney opener with a 56-34 win over the 701st Military Police Battalion on Feb. 25. The 5th Engineers went on to defeat the 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, 57-44, on Feb. 26, and beat the 31st Engineers, 53-4, Feb. 27 to advance to the championship game.
“It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears. It’s been a long season,” Haskins said prior to the tournament final. “A lot of our players have been out in the field, but we got here.”
The Marine Det. opened the tournament with a 39-29 win over the 84th Chemical Battalion on Feb. 24, then beat the Air Force Detachment 1, 364th Training Squadron, 54-51 on Feb. 26 and the 92nd Military Police Battalion, 60-43, on Feb. 27 to advance to the championship game.
Prior to the championship, the 31st Engr. Bn. defeated the 92nd MP Bn., 52-42, to win the tournament’s third-place game.
Ending the season with a win was a positive end to a successful tournament for the 31st Engineers, according to player Michael Foreman, who cheered his teammates on from the sidelines after being injured in the team’s previous game.
“It means a lot, because we’re one of the smallest units on the post. We only have about 50 to 60 permanent party, and to finish third on post in a sport like basketball — it means a lot,” Foreman said.