The true mark of a champion is how it responds to adversity. For the Sol Blazers, their backs are firmly against the wall.
Cayman’s reigning two-time champions will play game three of their best-of-three series with the Silver Bullets on May 18 at 4 p.m. Sol lost game one, 78-76, before rebounding to win game two, 68-65, at Camana Bay’s Arts and Recreation Center last Sunday. For Sol veteran guard Jasen Campbell, the idea of being under pressure to win is nothing new.
“The team feels very confident we can win game three,” Campbell said. “We really feel we can win this game. We should have won game one but little mistakes down the stretch made us lose. The second game, we rose above our mistakes. We know what it takes to make it work, we are the champions, we’ve been here before. Once we execute on defense, the offense should come. We’re not focused on offense, we’re focused on defense because defense wins games. If we do that, we should win the game with no problem.
“On defense, rebounding is key. Last game they had a few second chances off offensive rebounds when we were maintaining a small lead and that brought them into the game. We got to execute our defense more. They were getting a lot of opportunities to get in the middle – the heart of the defense – and we couldn’t recover. We have to clog the middle and make it difficult to get inside. From there, we got to force turnovers and fast-breaks. We just got to go back to basics.”
In game one, Campbell was among the top scorers with 15 points and eight rebounds. He had help from Kevin Maxwell with 22 points and 14 rebounds, Josh Cotterell chipped in 20 points and 10 rebounds and Davion Cotterell grabbed 12 points. In the second contest, Campbell was reduced to just six points and three rebounds while Davion Cotterell stepped up with 19 points and four rebounds and Deandre Simpson made a successful return from school in the United States by posting 12 points and 14 rebounds.
Indeed, one of the talking points around the Blazers has been the role of their overseas players. During the regular season, with most of that talent abroad, Sol limped to fourth place at 5-5. The likes of Shaad O’Garro and Davion Cotterell have been key components of Sol’s back-to-back championship runs.
Blazers guard Perry Levy, who has spent about a decade with the club, concedes Simpson and company will need to be difference makers for his side to advance.
“We are extremely excited about making it back to the finals and defending our title and that has us very confident going in to the game,” Levy said. “When we have our full core of talent and play the brand of selfless basketball that we are accustom to playing, we expect to win every time. If we control the boards, stay active on defense and play with good pace on offense, we believe we’ll punch our ticket to the finals. Maxwell and Campbell have been the heartbeat of our team all season and typically we go as they go.
“In the case of the Bullets, we need to negate their ability to get in the paint – spearheaded by Brandon Glasgow – and at the same time, stay home on their shooters – in particular Alex Brzozowicz.”
Glasgow and Brzozowicz have been key reasons why the Bullets turned in a 8-2 regular season campaign that was good enough to grab the No. 1 seed. Glasgow led his side to victory in game one with 23 points with Brzozowicz adding 12 points and nine rebounds and Denton Cole scoring 16 points and two 3-pointers. In game two, Glasgow produced 11 points and Brzozowicz nabbed 12 points off four 3-pointers while Stephen Shaw scored 17 points and 15 rebounds, Peter Grant posted 14 points and four rebounds and Jake Whittaker chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds.
For Bullets coach Redver Ebanks, there is no shortage of belief that his side can knock off the champions.
“We feel really good because the Blazers brought back every college player and the kitchen sink and they could only muster 68 points,” Ebanks said. “That means our team is playing great defense. We’ve been missing a key contributor in Curtis Wilson, who leads the team in scoring and is second in rebounding. He’s a key wing player to have in order for four big guys to be in the game. With him, we match up better with Sol.
“Without Curtis, we played extremely good. But we lost Denton for game two and three, who is on assignment for work in the Bahamas. Denton was a big boost for us to win game one and with Curtis back, it softens that blow. We got to take care of our defensive rebounding and try to limit their second chance points. On offense, we got to take care of the ball more. We had easy turnovers that led to points for Sol. Based on last game, we have to limit Davi’s points, put a body on Deandre – who’s good at grabbing offensive rebounds – and cut down on Josh’s points.
“My whole team contributed on offense and defense, with five of our six players in double figures. We already have a balanced attack, we can shoot the ball and drive to the hoop. We don’t need anyone to step up, we just have to keep our standard of play up. We should close Blazers out on Sunday and we should be in the running for the championship.”