Before the Cedar Valley CourtKings could set their sights on their long awaited bye weekend on June 30, they had to focus in on two divisional opponents, hungry to stake their claim for momentum heading down the final stretch of the season.
The CourtKings opened up their final weekend of play in June hosting their longtime rivals, the Minnesota Lakers in Waterloo on Saturday night, June 23. Coming off their first loss in nearly two full years a week ago, the CourtKings would face a heavy challenge from a Laker team that came to the Cedar Valley riding a six game winning streak. The Lakers had lost their first meeting of the year with the CourtKings back on May 6th, 112-113 to fall to 1-3. Since then they have rattled off six straight wins and surged into second place in the Northwest Division.
In the first quarter of action, it was the Kevin Thompson of the Lakers who exploded from in the paint and mid-range with 12 points from the field. Despite three-point baskets by Anthony James and Dylan Hale, the CourtKings struggled to find shots to fall and held on to trail by only six points at the end of one quarter, 30-24.
Thompson was slowed down throughout the second period as the CourtKings shared the ball throughout the front court with James, Alex Houston, Aundre Hicks, and Marcus Smith. Fouls by the Lakers helped keep the Lakers on a short string with the Cedar Valley shooting six for seven at the line in the period. The Lakers turned to the quick speed of Kenny Bass and the shooting ability of Dominique Dawson to help them close out the first half with a five point lead, 54-49.
To start the third quarter, the CourtKings came out strong with a strong defensive presence and awareness on offense as they worked to pull within reach. However, Thompson came out hot for the Lakers as he sank another 12 points in the lane as part of his game high 29. The CourtKings shooting improved, but they were still outscored in the period 33-31, and headed in the final 12 minutes down by seven, 87-80.
With the Lakers pushing the pace of the game for virtually all three quarters, the CourtKings entered the fourth quarter staring down the barrel of potentially losing consecutive games for the first time since the beginning of the inaugural 2016 season. Right out of the gate however, James came alive racing up the court and into the lane by scoring ten of his team-high 24 in the paint alone. Raheem Tyner and Houston soon joined in as part of the late game rally with a set of baskets to back up James. With Thompson once again struggling late in the half, the CourtKings were able to hold the Lakers to five of 12 shooting from the free throw line in the period, and outscore their rivals 35-21 in the final period and escape with a come from behind win, 115-108.
James led the comeback with his 24 points and two rebounds, as Brady Burford notched a double-double of 20 points, 14 rebounds, and one assist. Houston scored 17, Tyner added 16, Raijon Kelly sank 11, and both Smith and Hicks scored ten points. With the win, the CourtKings moved to 11-1 on the season and punched their ticket to the Midwest Basketball League Playoffs next month in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
A quick turnaround began the next morning as the CourtKings hit the road to Anoka to take on the Minnesota Broncos in their final meeting of the 2018 season. The CourtKings came to the Minneapolis suburb having never lost a game against the Broncos, notching their most recent victory back on May 12th over the Broncos 97-93.
Like the Lakers a night earlier, the Broncos came out swinging with Akeem Cubie finding the basket seven times in the paint and quickly putting his team up early. James began to pick up where he left off several hours earlier with 13 of his own points, including two baskets from downtown. Smith and David Stanley each found a long shot of their own to fall in for three points later in the period.
In the second quarter, it was Will Porter for the Broncos who found his footing with three layups and a shot from beyond the arc to fall in. For the CourtKings, Mac Johnson’s quickness inside the lane helped him maneuver to the basket for eight points. Dylan Hale and Stanley added another three point basket each to keep within striking distance of the Broncos going into the halftime break.
The third quarter saw the CourtKings begin to push the pace by throwing the ball up the court to wear down the Broncos defense and leave them behind the ball carrier. Burford and Hale found the basket with almost no defense around them as the CourtKings pulled closer in the period. The Broncos however used the long ball to keep their opponent at bay with six buckets from deep.
As the play in the fourth quarter began, the fast paced play by the Cedar Valley began to look very similar to the action in the fourth period a night earlier. Hicks and James shared the ball in the front court for a combined seven baskets. The CourtKings and Broncos soon would battle back and forth for the lead. However as the clock ticked away, the Broncos control of the ball began to fail leading to CourtKings points off turnovers. The Cedar Valley put the game away at the free throw line shooting flawlessly to secure a second straight fourth quarter comeback for a win to move to 12-1. James led the CourtKings with 26 points, two rebounds, and four assists. Burford scored 22 as Johnson and Hicks finished with 12 each, and Smith ended the game with 11 points. The CourtKings win keeps their winning streak against the Broncos unblemished as they sweep the regular season series for the third straight season.
The CourtKings will be off this next weekend before playing the final three games of the season. T.C. Elite will come to Waterloo on July 7th for a highly anticipate game in the final home game of the season on “Fan Appreciation Night.” The CourtKings will hit the road on July 14th as they travel to take on the Rochester Roadrunners in Minnesota, and again on July 15th at the Minnesota Lakers to close out the regular season.