Zulfi Sheikh, CEBL
Isiaha Mike’s near triple-double performance for the Scarborough Shooting Stars led the team to its first ever CEBL championship in an 82-70 win against the Calgary Surge.
The Scarborough, Ontario, native showed out for his hometown as he put up 22 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. Not only did his all-around performance bring a title to his hometown, but it also earned Mike the honour of final’s Most Valuable Player.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride,” said Mike after the game. “We’ve been resilient through it all, be it roster changes or injuries…whatever it took for us to get to this point, and I’m thankful.”
His supporting cast in this one unsurprisingly included Cat Barber, the team’s leading scorer all season. The guard led the game with 23 points to go along with his two rebounds and five assists, which were huge considering Barber and Mike combined to score over 50 per cent of the team’s points on the night.
They were joined by Kyree Walker who stepped up with his 17 points and four rebounds, and Gedi Juozapaitis who added 11 points off the bench.
“There are so many people connected to this win,” said Shooting Stars head coach Chris Exilus. “That’s what makes it so special. We were prepared…we didn’t care who scored and who made plays, we just knew we had to make plays.”
On the other side, Jordy Tshimanga led the way for Calgary by way of a 15-point, 15-rebound, double-double. Stef Smith also did what he could with his 14 points and five assists, but the guard, like the rest of his team struggled holding onto the ball as he committed a game-high five turnovers. Meanwhile Terry Henderson Jr. notched a season-high 11 points in the loss, scoring six of those points in the fourth quarter.
“It’s been a family,” Tshimanga said on his team as he reflected on the season post-game. “We went through ups and downs, and eventually we got better, and it led us here todays. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done but I’m proud of the core.”
The Surge threw the first punch in tonight’s heavy weight showdown as they took an early 15-5 lead thanks to the strong play of Tshimanga. Coming into the contest, there were questions surrounding the forward and if he could fill the role of the absent Simi Shittu. Tshimanga had to make up for the loss of the team’s leader and CEBL’s best rebounder, and it was safe to say the forward erased any uncertainty with his 10 points and five rebounds in the first.
Fortunately for Scarborough fans, the team found a response and it was through the play of their own big man. Mike scored seven points in the frame, which led an 11-4 run to end the quarter and cut Calgary’s margin to 19-16 headed into the second.
Momentum for the Shooting Stars didn’t end there as they opened the next frame by scoring 10 unanswered points thanks to the Surge’s carelessness with the ball. Calgary struggled with turning the ball over all season, ranked second in the CEBL with 15.8 giveaways a night, and their lack of ball security caused them problems throughout that Scarborough run. The Surge finished the half with eight turnovers, which led to 15 points for the Shooting Stars and a 41-32 lead at halftime.
After a strong first quarter Tshimanga was held scoreless in the second while Mike continued to do a bit of everything for Scarborough with his game-high 12 points, six rebounds, and four assists at the break.
After letting Mike do most of the damage offensively through the first two quarters, Barber got into the mix in the third. He scored seven points in the frame, which matched Mike’s 17 points through three and helped the Shooting Stars maintain a nine-point lead, up 60-51 headed into the fourth.
Despite being up, Scarborough struggled shooting the ball from beyond the arch all night, as they made just four of their 16 attempts through three quarters. Fortunately for Shooting Stars fans, the team found their stroke in the fourth as they knocked down three consecutive triples to put the squad up by 15 points at the 5:24 mark of the frame.
One of those threes was knocked down by Juozapaitis, putting him up to 11 points and made it back-to-back games hitting double-digit scoring, his first time doing so all season.
The import out of Lithuania had averaged just 3.3 points per game this year and played just 10 minutes through Scarborough’s first two playoff games. Despite that, he showed out for the Shooting Stars, going nearly 60 per cent from distance over the team’s final two games. Juozapaitis scored all but one of Scarborough’s points off the bench as he helped the team mount a 12-0 run that gave the Shooting Stars a 72-57 lead headed into Target Score Time.
As daunting as a 15-point deficit may have felt for the Surge, it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for the squad. Calgary set a CEBL record earlier this season when they completed a 16-point comeback in target time against the Edmonton Stingers, a feat they hoped to accomplish once again.
Calgary’s odds looked even better when the team knocked down three straight shots from beyond the arch – two by Henderson Jr. – and cut Scarborough’s lead down to single digits. Like the Shooting Stars, the Surge struggled mightily from distance all night, making just three triples on 11.5 per cent shooting to that point, but found their rhythm when the team needed it most.
Unfortunately for fans of the Surge that was as close as their team got as the duo of Barber and Walker took over and led an 8-2 run that secured the Shooting Stars their first championship in franchise history. Fittingly, the team’s leading scorer all season, Barber, put an end to the contest with a strong drive down the left side, finished with a layup, 82-70 the final.
Scarborough won the game by 12 points despite making just two more shots from the field and one more three-pointer, and it was thanks to their stingy defence. They held Calgary to 38 per cent shooting from the field and 20 per cent from beyond the arch while limiting them to just 70 points. No team this post-season scored more than 74 points against the Shooting Stars as they held opponents to just 71.8 points per game.
After the game coach Exilus had one final message for fans back in Scarborough.
“I want to thank everyone back home,” Exilus said. “This is Scarborough…and I think I want more.”