The Yellow Jackets celebrate after their win Saturday Night.
by Thomas Leturgey
Bulletin Board material. Sometimes it’s an off-handed remark about a particular player or a team. Two weeks ago, the Steel City Yellow Jackets defeated the New Jersey Knights 140-124 on the strength of American Basketball Association (ABA) specific “3 D” rules. Whenever a team earns a turnover in the opposing team’s side of the court, the “3D” red light is activated and the fortuitous team has a shot at an extra point. That means a 2-point jumper is worth three on the scoreboard, and so on. When the Yellow Jackets are pressing, they are frequently the recipient of these “bonus” opportunities.
On January 28, Ace Pippens’ team connected on their fair share of “3D buckets.” On their way out, a high-ranking Knights official was overheard, calling the defending ABA National Champions “overrated” and “that if it wasn’t for 3D’s,” the Knights would have won in an upset. The Yellow Jackets remembered.
Prior to the game, still-new point guard Ryan Montoya was practicing and swooshing three-pointers from well behind the stripe. The workout was a predictor of things to come in the game. Montoya scored the first points of the game right after the jump ball between Dominick McClung and the Knights’ Marquail Hardiman. Curtis Forchner would hit a jumper to tie the game at two, and Montoya would hit a three-pointer that was identical to the ones he effortlessly hit moments before tip-off and make it 5-2.
That’s the closest the New Jersey Knights would be all evening.
Claude Scott, Jr., who had his best game of the season two weeks ago in New Jersey, connected on the first of many 3D opportunities to make it 8-2 with 9:30 to go in the first quarter. In an immediate 3D opportunity, James Jackson was fouled, but made all 3 free throws. Montoya would remain hot and hit another 3D jumper to push the score to 18-4. James Jackson’s 3D from behind the 3-point line made it 22-4. Up 24-4 with 7:34 remaining, the Knights’ Arthur Mitchell argued with officials about fouls he thought were missed.
James and Tim Jackson would turn on the pressure and the returning Tone Reddic, Sr. (he missed last weekend’s game against Central Pennsylvania) entered the game and connected on a three-pointer to make it 36-6. Amaru Caldwell, who will be expected to make up for the late-season loss of Kenny Holmes to another league, scored on two-consecutive three-pointers. Incredibly, Caldwell added a four-point 3D jumper as the Yellow Jackets simply overwhelmed the Knights. Brandons Johnson and Burnett scored, as did Reddic to end the first quarter with a 56-10 lead. Two weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets had a 35-22 lead over the Knights.
Things were just a little slower in the second quarter. The Yellow Jackets had success with the full-court press throughout the game. In a testament to Head Coach/starter Robert Whetham, the Knights did not give up. Marquail Hardiman and Curtis Forchner in particular, played for pride, even as the score swelled to an insurmountable lead. Captains Reddic and Scott led the way in the second, and McClung scored to make it 71-20. Reddic was fouled hard with less than six minutes remaining and he missed both free throws, but scored in the paint right after that.
James Jackson came on, as did Montoya, who energized the team with a 4-point shot on a 3D takeaway.
At this point in the game, the Knights, who traveled with only eight players, looked gassed against the run-and-gun Yellow Jackets. Reddic, Tim Jackson and Scott scored (Claude’s on a 3D) to punctuate a 96-27 lead at half time.
Right after intermission, Montoya, McClung, and Tim Jackson scored to make it 101-27. McClung jammed home a dunk during a 3D opportunity to make it 104-27. Montoya scored on another three-pointer and Knights Coach Whetham wondered aloud why the Yellow Jackets still employed the press defense against his “Z Team.”
Later, Coach Ace Pippens would say he never heard the inquiry.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, the Yellow Jackets needed a game like this one as a character builder. With the playoffs looming (only six regular season games remain with a February 19 home contest added against West Virginia’s Tri-State Blazers), the Yellow Jackets have two losses, the same as last season. With the departure of Kenny Holmes, the immediate future of center Artis Cleveland in Pittsburgh being uncertain, and nagging injuries to veteran Gilmore Cummings, the defending ABA Champions need to find their late-season identity. This game served as a confidence booster for many of the players and the team in general.
Timothy Jackson scored, Scott dunked and Jackson scored again to make it 130-30 with 5:35 to go in the third. VaShawn Howard came on strong to stretch the lead to 138-35. The Yellow Jackets never let up and the Knights tried to keep the lead to less than 100 points. Claude Scott, Jr. argued with the officials and was threatened with an ejection. That never came to pass. The Jackson twins scored frequently and Tim hit a three-pointer at the end of the third to make it 151-52.
The Knights played their strongest quarter in the fourth. The Yellow Jackets would only outscore the visitors 49-37 in the final 12 minutes. Hardiman tried to prove a point by scoring on a dunk and some inside play in the opening moments. Brandon Johnson scored the home team and Reddic added offense, including a 3D in the closing seconds. James Jackson’s 3D three-pointer shoved the Yellow Jackets to a 200-89 victory.
James Jacksonic led all scorers with a season-high 42 points. Antonio Reddic, Sr. had 34, Timothy Jackson added 31 and Claude Scott, Jr. contributed 27. Ryan Montoya had a season-high 21, Brandon Johnson added 17, Amaru Caldwell with 12, VaShawn Howard 11, Dominick Howard 3 and Brandon Johnson 2. The Yellow Jackets are now 11-2.
This is the first time the Yellow Jackets have scored 200 or more points in two games during the same season, according to Pippens. The Yellow Jackets won 213-65 against the Bridgeport Bombers on December 10.
Curtis Forchner had 30 for the Knights, and Marquail Hardiman posted a strong 28 with Arthur Mitchell adding 14.
The Steel City Yellow Jackets return to A Giving Heart Community Center next Saturday to take on the D.C. Soul with tip-off at 7:00 p.m.