SAN IGNACIO/SANTA ELENA, CAYO, Sun. June 3, 2018– The 2018 Pepsi NEBL (National Elite Basketball League) season came to an end on Friday night at the Civic Center in Belize City, as Smart Belize Hurricanes swept their city counterparts, DigiCell Belize City Defenders in two games to claim their second NEBL championship in the past three years. Game 1 had witnessed a 29 point blowout, while game 2 was following a similar trend, as Smart Belize Hurricanes had a commanding 21 point lead going into the half. At the midway point of the fourth quarter, Defenders cut a once 26 point lead down to 9 points, but missed three opportunities to further slice the lead down, giving Hurricanes enough cushion to pull off the 78-66 victory.
Smart Belize Hurricanes was led by Devin Daly who had the game high with 35 points, which is the most points scored in an NEBL Finals in its 5-year history. Daly did this with great efficiency, scoring more than a point a minute, as he clocked only 32 minutes in the ball game, shooting 60% (6/10) from two-point range, while going 5 for 8 (62%) from behind the arc, and going 8 for 9 from the charity stripe, for 89% efficiency. Glency “Coope” Lopez padded the stats sheet with 10 points, 5 assists, 4 steals and 3 rebounds, while Kurt “Chengo” Burgess and Brian “Beso” White grabbed 11 rebounds each. Daly averaged 26.5 points in the two-game series, to walk away with his second consecutive Finals MVP award. Daly joins Darwin “Puppy” Leslie as the only other player to claim two Finals MVP awards, while Ashton Edwards boasts possession of the other hardware.
The sub-champs, DigiCell Belize City Defenders also had a great season, being the first team to reach the NEBL Finals as a #4 seed; but they were simply out-matched and out-hustled in the Finals. Regular season MVP, Nigel Jones finished the night with 20 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals; while their captain, Darwin “Puppy” Leslie tallied 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. The only other Defender with double-digit scoring was Jacob Leslie, who finished the game with 11 points, 4 dimes, 2 caroms and 2 steals.
With the win, Smart Belize Hurricanes have won 2 of the past 3 NEBL championships, while winning both times they have reached the finals. Smart Belize Hurricanes and San Pedro Tiger Sharks have each won 2 championships, while the fifth trophy is safely kept by Belmopan Bandits. Darwin “Puppy” Leslie has reached all five NEBL playoffs, while advancing to four of the five NEBL Finals, winning three of his 4 trips to the Finals. Kurt “Chengo” Burgess has been to 4 of the 5 NEBL Finals, and this is his first championship win finally breaking the winless streak.
The NEBL would like to congratulate the DigiCell Belize City Defenders for reaching the NEBL finals in its first year in the league, while extending kudos to Smart Belize Hurricanes on their second championship in franchise history. Special thanks to The National Channel (TNC) for being our corporate sponsor and airing the games live, and to Pepsi for partnering with the NEBL for the second consecutive season. Thanks to all other media houses who have been so gracious in covering our league this season. Most importantly, our sincerest gratitude to all our fans countrywide who have supported our league for the past five years. Lastly, special mention to all the players, coaches, managers, table officials, referees, Belize Association of Basketball Officials (BABO), police officers, media and others who were integral in the continued development of our league.
Season 6 is scheduled to tip-off in January 2019.
Photo: William Ysaguirre