By Master Sgt. Doug SampleMay 14, 2010
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Army News Service, May 14, 2010) -- The Marine Corps used teamwork and skill to win gold in the inaugural Warrior Games wheelchair basketball tourney Thursday, but in all reality Lance Cpl. Justin Martin could have won the game all by himself.
Martin scored a game-high 14 points, including 10 in the first half as the Corps rolled over Army 44-15 to finish the wheelchair basketball tournament undefeated, and give its medal-crazed fans another moment to remember.
As the frenzied crowd stormed the floor at the final buzzer, the Olympic Training Center gymnasium floor was covered in red and gold.
Marine head coach Billy Denby, who watched his team being presented their gold medals by Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said the dominating win only shows the strength of his squad. "They are willing to do whatever it is to get to the next level."
The Marines were short on words after their victory: "It feels great," was all Martinez could say to describe his feeling. Pfc. Jesse Schag, who had nine points in the win, said "It feels amazing, but we could not have done it without our fans and coaches."
Schag failed to mention his team's defense in the win.
The Corps shut down Army's offense, holding Spc. Chris Smith, Army's leading scorer, to just nine points for the night. Sgt. Michael Ortiz, who emerged as an offense threat by scoring 12 on Wednesday against Navy, was not heard from at all, going scoreless.
Meanwhile, the Corps was hitting on all cylinders by running off 14 unanswered points, and holding Army scoreless for 14 minutes. Smith finally put Army on the board with consecutive baskets that, for a brief moment, resuscitated the team's offense. It was Smith once again, this time scoring one of two at the foul line, cutting the margin, 14-5.
But as quickly as blood began to flow back into Army's offense, the Corps applied the defensive pressure that drained any signs of life.
After the half the Corps would score on its next nine possessions and take a commanding 35-5 lead, while the Army's shots either bounced off the rim or fell short. Smith, who at times appeared frustrated, would add four more points late into the second half, but by then the game, and the gold was in the Marine Corps hands.
Even with his team up by 30, Marines coach Denby a retired Army Vietnam veteran who is also a double amputee, could be seen pacing the sidelines and barking instructions. Denby said he was not happy with the lead, and called his team's play "atrocious."
"Their passing is off, they're not pushing, and it's probably because they are tired," he said of his players, many of whom had just finishing winning the gold medal for sitting volleyball. "So I'm trying to push them even harder. We are winning and I'm thankful for that, but it's time to push up."
Despite the fierce competition between the two services, after the game there were hand shakes and hugs, and promises of "we'll meet again next year." As a show of solidarity, at center court the two teams joined together and began shouting: "U.S.A!, U.S.A!" as if to say that this tournament is not about gold medals, but about country.
But don't tell that to Smith. "We only had three days to come together as a team, so to get second place was pretty good this year," he said. "But next year," he added, "We're getting the gold."