Although Jesse Betar of American Solutions Group insists it wasn't premeditated, he could have fooled anyone.
Betar and teammate Chris Buchanan combined to score the team's first 19 points, and spearheaded another key run in the second half, as American Solutions Group defeated Ciocca, Benton, & Okonak P.C., 66-58, in the Mansion Park Men's Summer Basketball League Division I championship game.
After giving up the first basket to start the game, Betar and Buchanan made two 3-pointers each in the first 11 minutes of the game to build American Solutions' lead to 19-10, with 9:54 remaining in the first half.
Division I championship game
"We didn't plan it," Betar said of the duo's early shooting. "But I got a couple open shots and Chris got a couple open shots and we got lucky, they went our way. Those are shots we want to take. If we can get open shots early [in the game] and they go in, you get a nice lead out of it. We got off to a good start and our fast tempo continued to help us out."
Betar finished with a game-high 25 points on his way to being named the championship game MVP, while Buchanan, who was later named the league MVP, added 15.
Travis Chamberlain and Matt Dukery each added baskets to extend the lead to 23-10, before Ciocca made its way back into the game via their forwards.
Ciocca's Dave Rizzo and Eric Taylor keyed its run back into the game. Rizzo had six first-half points and Taylor finished the half with six points in the last 1:24 to bring it back within six points at the break.
"We have three of the best big men in the league," Ciocca guard Tyler Mertiff said. "Chris Buchanan is a great player, we knew we had to control him, but we wanted to match him up with our big guys. It equaled out, but they got the best of us."
Rizzo and Taylor scored the team's first five points of the second half, before Mertiff made a 3-pointer to bring Ciocca within three points, 39-36, with 14:15 remaining.
That is as close as Ciocca would get, as Buchanan and Betar provided the answer it needed.
Taylor led Ciocca with 20 points, while Mertiff added 15.
After Betar made a free throw, Buchanan drove in on the next trip down the court and was fouled while making a layup. Buchanan added the free throw before Mertiff again got Ciocca within five points, but Betar's reverse layup started another run that built the lead to 55-38 with 4:38 remaining as American Solutions coasted to victory.
Betar sank all eight of his free throws down the stretch, while Ciocca was unable to convert on many of its attempts, going just 5-15 as a team from the line.
"We need them to teach us how to shoot foul shots, apparently" Mertiff said. "I think they shot about 90-percent [from the free throw line], so they did what they had to do to win. They're a great team, but hopefully we can get back here next season."
Ciocca came into the championship game as the fifth-seed, and was coming off a semifinal upset of top-seeded Guy Landolfi.
"We've been playing together a long time, so everyone knows how the game's supposed to work," Betar said. "We play hard until the last few minutes of the game, then we have to make our free throws. I think everyone was collectively aware of that. It came from three or four guys hitting free throws. Everyone knows that's how you have to do it."
Game notes: The All-League team was announced after the game featuring Demetrius Davis (Guy Landolfi, CPA), Jonny Hasson (Ciocca, Benton, & Okonak P.C.), Jordan Swogger (Valenty's), Keith Dinkins (Shannon's Auto), Matt Dukery (American Solutions Group) and Chris Buchanan (League MVP; American Solutions Group.
AMERICAN SOUTIONS GROUP (66): Buchanan 5 3-4 15, Chamberlain 2 0-0 4, Patterson 4 2-5 11, Hager 2 4-4 9, Dukery 1 0-0 2, Betar 6 12-13 25. Totals - 20 21-26 66.
CIOCCA, BENTON & OKONAK P.C. (58): Shannon 1 0-0 2, Rizzo 4 1-7 9, Okonak 2 1-2 6, Hasson 2 0-1 4, Taylor 8 3-5 20, Myers 0 0-0 0, Hollis 1 0-0 2, Mertiff 4 4-5 15. Totals - 18 5-15 58.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
American Solutions Group34 32 - 66
Ciocca, Benton, & Okonak P.C. 28 30 - 58
3-point goals: American Solutions Group 6 (Buchanan 2, Betar 2, Hager, Patterson); Ciocca, Benton, & Okonak P.C. 5 (Mertiff 3, Taylor, Okonak).
Referees: Skip Dry, Clark Adelman, Doug Moore