Basketball – JSBL Mainstay Larson Ford Caps Fitting Championship Season
BELMAR - There has only been one team in the Jersey Shore Basketball League that has maintained the same title sponsor for the entirety of the league's 50 years.
On Thursday night, that team capped the 50th season of the JSBL by celebrating a championship.
Larson Ford took its first lead of the entire game with 1:46 left and closed out a 94-91 win over defending champion Orthopaedic Institute to finish off its seventh championship in those 50 years.
"My dad was one of the founding members of this league so it's fitting that in the 50th year of the league, we would win this," Paul Larson Jr. said upon accepting the championship trophy. "This team has meant a lot to my dad and to my family over the years. This one is for him."
"Major thanks to the Larson Family: they have been sponsoring the team for 50 years and we enjoy playing on their team," said Kahlil McDonald, who finished with 24 points. "Fifty years is a long time and we really appreciate them. We gotta show our appreciation and that's how you do it."
McDonald and teammate Sam Toney ignited the comeback that saw Larson chip away at a 16-point third-quarter deficit and later a 10-point deficit with under four minutes to go. Jahmere Calhoun and McDonald hit threes on consecutive possessions to slice the Orthopaedic lead to 89-85 and McDonald came back with a third triple to pull Larson within one point with 2:27 left.
On Larson's next possession, McDonald again got the ball on right wing and this time drove for the go-ahead basket with 1:46 left, giving Larson its first lead at 90-89.
"We stayed the course throughout the game," McDonald said. "It's a game of runs and they played for pretty much the whole first three quarters, but we stayed right there. In the fourth quarter, the defensive stops took over, we got timely buckets that we needed from everybody. It was a unit win."
Orthopaedic (7-5) answered McDonald's go-ahead score with a baseline reverse by Steve Harris, who led all players with 31 points and 11 rebounds, to put his team back in front, 91-90, with under 1:30 to play.
Larson (7-6) had one more answer and it proved to be the winning one. Sam Toney picked out a spot in the left corner and fired up a three-pointer that found its mark to give Larson a 93-91 lead with 56 seconds left. Toney led Larson with 29 points and nine rebounds.
"I had two crucial, terrible turnovers that hurt us, but I came up with a big stop and a big three on the other end," said Toney, a rising senior at New Jersey City University. "It's all about the next play. My coach always says, 'Be shot-ready.' I sat in the corner, I was shot-ready, it kicked it to me and I knocked it down."
Orthopaedic Institute had two chances to tie the game from the free-throw line in the final 15 seconds but Trevis Wyche and Devine Eke each missed a pair of foul shots within two seconds on one another. McDonald answered by hitting one of two one the other end with 8.4 seconds left to make it 94-91.
Despite the late struggles, Orthopaedic still had a chance to send the game to overtime, much like it did in the semifinal round on Tuesday. Sean Hoehn hit a game-tying three with 0.6 seconds left to send that game into overtime, where his team beat Island Title to earn a spot in the title game.
Hoehn again took a potential game-tying three but it missed the mark. The ball went out of bounds off Larson Ford to give Orthopaedic one last chance but Eke's contested fadeaway three came up short.
Only twice during the 2019 JSBL season prior to Thursday did a team scored fewer than 100 points in a game and strangely enough, it was each of the finalists. Thursday was the first game all season that ended with both teams failing to crack 100 on the scoreboard, which underscored the additional defensive intensity of the game.
Toney played a particularly pivotal role in slowing down Harris in the second half after the East Stroudsburg alum burned Larson for 21 points and seven rebounds in the first half.
"It's called 'Lock it in,'" Toney said. "Lock in, stay together and good things will happen. I switched on (Harris) in the second half. I'm a little bit stronger, I play stronger than a lot of guys, I can take more of a beating. For me, it's just about trying to bear down, play defense without fouling and trust my teammates."
Wyche finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists while Monmouth University swingman George Papas poured in 18 points, including 14 in the first half.
The defensive effort on the part of Larson also helped overcome the absence of leading scorer Jesse Jones, who was unable to attend Thursday's game. Two top teams in the league were eliminated with key players not able to make it to playoff games, with Sea View Jeep losing its first-round game while playing without two-time league MVP Justin Robinson and top-seeded Sterns Trailer losing in the semifinals with and leading scorer Shavar Reynolds heading off to Italy with his Seton Hall team.
Larson, however, bucked the trend and finished off a fitting championship to culminate the league's landmark 50th season.
"This is my second summer playing here and last year, we lost to this same team," Toney said. "This year it was all about coming out and beating this team by any means and we did it."