SAN IGNACIO TOWN, Sat. May 14, 2016–The third and decisive Game 3 of the NEBL finals was played on Friday night at the Belize Elementary School gymnasium in Belize City. The massive crowd that was in attendance was a testament to the significance of the game and the fanfare that enveloped this season.
The intensity in the gym was palpable from tip-off, as the two-time defending champions, San Pedro Tiger Sharks jumped out to an early 15-10 lead, which was narrowed to 24-22 at the end of the first quarter.
At intermission, the visiting squad was still holding on to a marginal 47-45 lead; and mid-way through the third quarter, Smart Belize Hurricanes took a 60-58 lead, which they increased to 4 points, 72-68, at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter was surely the most intense 10 minutes for both teams, as the game was defined by constant ties and lead changes. The home team was nurturing a 3 point lead, but missed free throws down the stretch by Smart Belize Hurricanes, complemented by huge three-point shots by San Pedro Tiger Sharks, kept the game close. Two consecutive three pointers by San Pedro Tiger Sharks quickly evaporated the home team’s lead to 93-90, but Smart Belize Hurricanes was able to hit some key free throws in the waning seconds of the game, while improving their defense in the last 3-4 possessions, to seal the 98-92 victory.
There were 8 ties and 11 lead changes in this game, and the biggest lead that both teams had in the game was 7 points. The win gave Smart Belize Hurricanes their first NEBL championship in franchise history, as they defeated the two-time defending champions, San Pedro Tiger Sharks.
Darwin “Puppy” Leslie was the top scorer in this game with 33 points, to go with 6 rebounds and 2 steals. He hit four huge shots from behind the arc, while shooting 75% from the charity stripe, to go 9 of 12 from the free-throw line. Regular season MVP, Farron Louriano tallied 17 points and 8 rebounds, while Leroy Louriano sank 11 points, dished out 7 assists, grabbed 5 rebounds and secured 3 steals. Akeem Watters finished with a solid 9 points and 9 rebounds off the bench, while Glency “Coope” Lopez contributed 9 points and 3 boards off the pine. Smart Belize Hurricanes shot 42% from the field, and a dismal 58% from the free throw line, missing 15 shots from the charity stripe.
San Pedro Tiger Sharks was led by Caleb Sutton with 19 points, 4 steals, 2 assists and 2 rebounds; while Douglas Valley netted 17 points to go with 2 rebounds and 2 assists, and 4 three-point shots. Andrew “Bynum” Ortiz tallied 16 points and 5 rebounds, and Ashton Edwards sank 15 points, including three shots from behind the arc. Gene Myvett recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, to go with 6 assists and 2 steals, while Raul Roches finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds. San Pedro Tiger Sharks shot 43% from the field, 34% from behind the three-point arc, and 55% from behind the charity stripe.
The Hurricanes controlled the glass with a 57-45 advantage, and also had a 51-31 advantage off bench points. The Tiger Sharks had the 22-17 edge on points off turnovers, and a 13-6 advantage on fast break points. Smart Belize Hurricanes shot 36 free throws, compared to 31 shots from the visiting team. The home team led for 22 minutes in the game, while San Pedro Tiger Sharks had the lead for 18 minutes.
Finals MVP went to Darwin “Puppy” Leslie for the second consecutive year, as he averaged 24.3 points per game, while offering great leadership and poise to his team. Darwin was also last year’s finals MVP, but he was then playing with San Pedro Tiger Sharks. Kudos to Darwin “Puppy” Leslie, who is the only player to have won three consecutive championships, his first 2 with San Pedro Tiger Sharks, and this year with Smart Belize Hurricanes.
The NEBL would like to congratulate all eight teams for participating in this year’s tournament, and San Pedro Tiger Sharks for being the only team to reach three straight finals. Respect to all the team managers, coaches, players, fans, referees, table officials and supporters of the NEBL, as we continue to grow the sport of basketball in Belize. Special thanks to Bowen and Bowen Ltd. and The National Channel (TNC) for being our corporate sponsors this season. Thanks to all the media houses that covered our games on a weekly basis.