MOKAN ELITE 85, TEAM WHYNOT 84 (OT)
NORTH AUGUSTA — In a split second, the nightmare scenario was coming true for MOKAN Elite.
Leading Team WhyNot 85-84 in overtime in Sunday's 17U Peach Jam championship game, there was one thing MOKAN really needed to do – keep the ball out of Jalen Green's hands.
Yet somehow that's exactly where it went. Inbounding from under their own basket, WhyNot ran the perfect play that got Green open directly in front of the basket.
But Green, who drilled a buzzer-beater at halftime and then did it again to send the game to overtime, left it short on the rim.
The stunning finish sent MOKAN's players spilling onto the court in a celebration that had to include at least the slightest bit of shock that he missed.
"Frightened of Jalen, just terribly frightened of what he can do. He had a good look, and shame on us," said MOKAN coach Chris Neff. "Truly shame on us, because we had a 7-footer on the ball and a 7-footer on him. We didn't play very well. They're fantastic – they're fantastic. We're very fortunate."
Green's buzzer-beater in regulation evened the game up at 79 after MVP N'Faly Dante, who had 22 points and 18 rebounds, made one of two free throws with 4.9 seconds left.
The previous buzzer-beater, a deep 3 to end the half, was part of a spark that got WhyNot back into the game after trailing by double digits early. Green's 3-ball made it 47-38 at the break, and they had a 58-57 lead late in the third quarter.
MOKAN went back to how it built that big lead, leaning on speedy guards like Kennedy Chandler to drive and dish or going inside to 7-footers Dante and Davion Bradford. Chandler's steal and slam – at Green's expense, no less – made it a 68-66 MOKAN lead with 5:53 to go.
They held that lead until Green's shot passed through the net with .3 on the clock, and then they endured another tying surge from WhyNot in overtime after taking a quick four-point lead.
Tied in the closing seconds of overtime, MOKAN again went inside to Dante. He got to the line and made one free throw for the 85-84 lead, then MOKAN's initial celebration at the other end was cut short when the referees determined a ball out of bounds belonged to WhyNot with a second to go.
All eyes were on Green, who scored 27 points in the game not even 24 hours removed from scoring 20 in the fourth quarter alone to send eighth-seeded WhyNot past Boo Williams and into the finals for the second year in a row.
But for the second year in a row – and in just their second year in the Nike EYBL – WhyNot leaves North Augusta broken-hearted.
It's the second time in four years that MOKAN Elite, the No. 6 seed who ends the circuit with a 17-4 record, wears the 17U crown. The 2016 team, led by Trae Young and Michael Porter Jr., was absolutely dominant throughout the circuit and especially in North Augusta. Seeing that name back in the field and playing well at Peach Jam revived some talks of the '16 champs, something Neff and his players have heard about plenty.
"The team that won it always heard about the teams before them that got to Peach Jam and played in the final four – they kind of shut our coaching staff up. They were like, 'We're sick of hearing about them. Now you've got to talk about us' in 2016," he said. "We've been hearing about that team a lot, too. Just to be able to do what they did under the condition that they did it in, and honestly without the star power the 2016 team had, it says a lot about their connectedness. I'm really proud of them."
The nail-biter for the title was a fitting end to an exciting week, and the 17Us did what they could to follow the drama of the E16 finale.
KJ Adams of top-seeded Team Griffin hit the game-winner against third-seeded Team Takeover in the final second of double overtime, sending Detroit Piston Blake Griffin sprinting across the court to celebrate with the players. Adams scored 23 points to lead four Team Griffin players in double figures, and they overcame a 28-point performance by Team Takeover's Jakai Robinson.
Before that, No. 1 seed Nightrydas Elite cruised to an 83-69 win over No. 7 seed Team Final for the E15 championship. Jean Montero scored a game-high 26 points for Nightrydas Elite, which went 5-1 at Peach Jam and 15-2 during the EYBL circuit.
Those celebrations built up to the biggest one of the day, as MOKAN Elite capped a 7-1 week in North Augusta with one of the most exciting wins in Peach Jam history.
There was one bit of disappointment for MOKAN on Sunday following the trophy photos and celebratory peaches, though. Dylan Branson let out a groan when he realized it was time to leave.
"Man, we've gotta go straight to the airport," he griped.
Bradford countered, offering that they'd at least have to go back to the hotel first.
Wherever they did end up going after leaving Riverview Park Activities Center, they went there as Peach Jam champions.