By Nathan DeenJuly 25, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (July 24, 2013) -- Disappointment resonated on the faces of several Fort Benning Heat players Saturday at North Highland Assembly of God.
The Heat had played in the Old School Basketball League for years, and for the first time, they entered the summer postseason as the No. 1 overall seed, with the best chance to claim a championship in front of them.
It wasn't to be though, as the Columbus Red Jackets stifled the Heat defensively and took a best-of-three series 2-0, winning Game 1 on Thursday, 62-54 and Game 2 on Saturday, 58-48. Fort Benning had beaten Columbus both times the two teams met in the regular season.
"They played way more physical," said Heat wingman Philip Whittington. "We were bumped 24/7, we had to get down and grind."
With point guard Michael Brown unavailable in the series, the Heat struggled to find continuity on offense. Columbus guard Kevin Douglas said his team committed to winning the rebounding battle and bottled up the paint. The Heat couldn't shoot the Red Jackets out of their zone, which led to one-and-done possessions and transition opportunities for Columbus the other way.
"They forced us to play out of our game as far as shooting shots," said Heat guard Norman King. "We got some good looks, we just couldn't hit them."
The Red Jackets won both games in similar fashion -- using a big first-half run to open a lead and then kept Fort Benning from making a run in the second half.
The Heat looked poised to survive Game 2 and force a winner-take-all Game 3 that would have been played Monday. Fort Benning went on a 15-4 run in the second half, and took its first lead of the game with less than six minutes to go. After a thunderous dunk by center Michael Smart, a transition 3-pointer by Donald Wing, and a slash to the basket by Whittington that put the Heat up 46-45, all the momentum appeared to favor Fort Benning.
But turnovers cooled off the Heat in the final minutes. Columbus responded with a 3-pointer and then a fast break layup to go up 50-46 with under two minutes left. The Heat kept turning it over late, leaving them no choice but to foul. The Red Jackets went on to make eight of 10 free throws to pull away.
"We had way too many turnovers at the end," Whittington said. "We turned the ball over four times straight. They scored four times straight. That was the difference right there."
Whittington said it was the second time he had made it to the finals since he's been playing in the OSBL and came away empty.
"This is heartbreaking," he said. "I jammed my finger on the very last play. I think my pride hurts more than my finger does."