The (16-13) Austin Toros took down the (15-14) Tulsa 66ers in overtime 106-103 in front of a crowd of almost 4,100 in the Cedar Park Center. Both teams had identical records coming into the game and both teams were tied for 8th place in the playoff standings. Perhaps that's one of the big reasons why tonight's game felt more like an April playoff game rather than only the 29th game of a 50 game journey being played in early February.
After the game, when Coach Taylor Jenkins addressed his team, he let out a primal scream and a 'Yeah Baby!' that shook the lockers and called this one of the best games he's ever seen in his 5 years with the Toros.
"Fellas, that's playoff basketball right there," said the coach in the post game team meeting. "And I'm telling you the truth here that that was one of the best, best Toros games I've ever been a part of. That's the God's honest truth. We won the championship last year and that's one of the best I've ever seen.
For the reigning champions, winning a game in early February should hardly be a big deal. But for this squad, it was. Because this was the type of game that this team had been losing earlier in the season.
The formula for a Toros loss has been pretty consistent. Coach Taylor has been preaching respect the full 48 minutes, but in their losses, the Toros seem to have one quarter where they get outscored by double digits. On Saturday, the Toros were outscored 33-18 in the fourth quarter (Former NBA player Rasual Butler alone went off for 18 points in the quarter for the 66ers). Also, missed free throws down the stretch have hurt them in close games, and the Toros went 2-4 in the final 40 seconds of the game. When Rasual Butler hit the go ahead 3 pointer with 25 seconds to go, this could have been another tough home loss.
And in overtime, when Sutton hit a shot for the 66ers to give them a 2 point lead with less than 40 seconds to go, it looked like, once again, the Toros were going to drop another heart breaker at home.
But tonight, it would be different. Tonight, instead of a gut wrenching loss, the Toros were able to put the game away in overtime, thanks in part to a big OT 3 point shot by Jamarr Sanders.
"The play was designed to set a back screen for JaMychal and come out and shoot it," said Jamarr Sanders, the only Toro on the squad left over from last year's championship team. "That just shows the confidence that the coaching staff has in me."
Jamarr finished the game with only 10 points on 4-12 shooting, but made the big basket when it counted, just as the unheralded star has done all season long.
"It's one of those nights where all my shots were going in and out, so I felt good about all of them (when they left my hand)," responded Sanders when asked if he knew the ball was going in after he shot it. "So when it left my hand, I was just praying that it didn't go in and out."
That's why tonight felt so different. That's why tonight's win felt so good. In front of a near capacity crowd that had great energy all night, the Toros finally won the type of game that they had been losing all season long.
"High level basketball," said Coach Jenkins after the game. "You guys showed it. We talked about our standard. You can only go higher from there."
All season long, the Coach has talked about playing all 48 minutes of the game. The Toros didn't exactly do that tonight, but they played really hard and still managed to pull out a very exciting victory. Perhaps that is why tonight's win was so exciting for everyone to see. To pull out a victory against a quality team when not playing their best basketball may be the beginning of a special run by this team.
For the night, the Toros shot 49% from the field compared to the 66ers 44%, but this game was close because of the perimeter shooting. The 66ers held the advantage from 3 point land, shooting 11-24 for 46% as compared to the Toros 4-14 (29%). The Toros out rebounded the 66ers 48 to 39 and were much more aggressive tonight, getting to the line 6 more times than the 66ers. But the perimeter shooting of the 66ers and the TOs by the Toros kept this game a much closer one than it should have been.
The former Crimson Tide JaMychal Green had a monster night with 29 points and 21 rebounds (the second Toros player to hit 20/20 in a game this season), both season highs, in tonight's game.
"It felt great tonight," said player of the game Green. "Being able to make some of the plays I made tonight and being able to help my team win felt great".
But was it better than Alabama winning a National Championship?
"Uhm, I wouldn't say that," said a laughing Green.
Back up PG Tre Kelley left the game in the first half with what appeared to be an injured finger. Speaking with the trainers after the game, they didn't feel the injury was anything serious.
The next home game for the Toros is this Wednesday against the Maine Red Claws at 7:30pm at the Cedar Park Center. The Red Claws own an 18-13 record and are currently the 6th seed in the playoff standings. They're also boasting an 8-5 road record this year, so expect a battle.
The Red Claws, owned and operated by the Boston Celtics, are lead by 3rd ranked prospect Shelvin Mack, who's already made two trips to the NBA this season, 4th ranked DaJuan Summers (20 points a game), Fab Melo, who's spent time with the Celtics this year as well, the 11th ranked Chris Wright (18 points and 9 boards) and the 25th ranked Micah Downs (18 points and 7 RPG).
The Toros are lead by San Antonio Spurs Assignee Cory Joseph (19 pts /5 reb / 5 asst) along with 17th ranked Chris Roberts (defensive specialist), 22nd ranked Rick Jackson (nightly double double averaging 10 points and 10 boards) and 27th ranked Tyler Wilkerson, fresh off a knee injury. Given the championship experience of Jamarr Sanders and the development of JaMychal Green, this game has the potential to be every bit the barn burner that tonight's game was.
Tickets, as low as $5, are still available for Wednesday's game by visiting here.
Check out what Coach Taylor Jenkins has to say after tonight's victory. As a word of caution, I'd recommend turning down the volume of your speakers at the beginning of the video.