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Lenny Stokes and the Altitude rose up down the stretch and earned their second straight title.
(Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images)
“I’m not going to lie to you, it feels good,” Asheville coach Joey Meyer said as his team cut down the nets in front of the visitors’ bench following the win. “I don’t care what level you are playing, winning a championship is a lot of fun.”
Double-doubles from Timmy Bowers (11 points and 10 rebounds) and Ron Slay (17 points and 10 rebounds), along with 17 points off the bench from Lenny Stokes, helped ensure that Meyer would be celebrating again in 2005. Meyer and Stokes are the only holdovers from the 2004 Altitude team that won both the regular season and postseason titles.
“If we had an award for most improved player in the league I would vote for Timmy Bowers,” Meyer said. “After Brandin Knight got hurt (broken leg), Timmy was a two guard playing point, and now he is a scoring point.”
As good as Bowers and company played offensively, it may have been the effort on the defensive end of the floor that put Asheville over the top. Columbus managed to convert just 29-of-92 field goal attempts (31-percent), with sharpshooters Reed Rawlings and Ramel Curry combining to convert just 7-of-30 from the field.
“Asheville is a better perimeter team than we are, they were more physical and quicker,” Columbus head coach Jeff Malone said. “All of our guys didn’t step up. We didn’t get big-time play from some of our guys.”
Asheville led 43-35 at the half and had extended the lead to 10 points (55-45) at the 5:21 mark in the third quarter before having to withstand a furious Riverdragons’ comeback that cut the Asheville advantage to 59-57 with just under a minute left in the third.
From there it was all Asheville, with the Altitude outscoring Columbus 29-10 in the fourth quarter. The Riverdragons made just three field goals in the final period, none after a Cedric Suitt jump hook with 6:36 to play.
“We spent a lot of energy to get back in it and we just couldn’t score again,” Malone said. “Give Asheville credit. They did a great job.”
“Defense wins championships,” Slay said. “We had our backs against the wall and came out on an opposing floor to get the win.”
Joe Forte chipped in 14 points and Terrence Shannon 12 for Asheville. Bowers added four steals and four assists to his double-double.
Derrick Zimmerman connected on 7-of-9 field goal attempts to lead Columbus with 16 points. He also dished out eight assists. Curry collected eight rebounds and was the only other Riverdragon in double figures with 12 points.