Thanks to Maurice Creek’s game-winning 3-pointer on Sunday, we’re going to have a first-time TBT champion on Tuesday night. Creek’s shot sent No. 22 seed Sideline Cancer to its first title-game appearance, while No. 4 seed Golden Eagles are back in the championship game after falling to Carmen’s Crew last summer.
It’s a rematch of the 2019 Wichita Regional final, when Golden Eagles knocked off Sideline Cancer 88-80. Will we see a repeat of that game?
“We were hungry for this game,” Creek said. “I felt the pain last year. Everybody that played last year felt that pain. It’s going to be one hell of a basketball game.”
Let’s look at some of the key talking points in the lead-up to the championship game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), where the winner will take home $1,000,000.
How they got here: Golden Eagles received a top-four seed after last season’s title-game loss, and therefore earned a bye into the second round. They knocked off Team CP3 in the second round and Team Brotherly Love in the quarterfinals, before a late surge against No. 8 Red Scare in the semifinals got them back to the championship.
“We’re a focused group, we understand what’s at stake,” coach Joe Chapman said. “We’ve been through this before. We’re excited about it, that nervous energy. We want to get this monkey off our back.”
Sideline Cancer, seeded all the way down at No. 22, had to win four games to get to the title game. It upset No. 11 Team Hines in the first round, then took down No. 6 Team Challenge ALS in the second round. In the quarters, it blew out Syracuse alumni Boeheim’s Army. But it was the semifinal win over Overseas Elite that will go down in TBT lore. Sideline Cancer erased a 10-point halftime deficit against Joe Johnson and the four-time champions, capped off by Creek’s 3-pointer to win the Elam Ending.
“We just stood together and stayed tough,” guard Marcus Keene said. “Everybody on our team is an underdog. And we bring that on the court every day.”
Players to know: Golden Eagles, filled with Marquette alumni, have plenty of familiar faces from past TBT events. The two key names to watch are Darius Johnson-Odom and Jamil Wilson. Johnson-Odom was a first-team All-Big East selection as a senior before being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft. He has been a consistent offensive performer for Golden Eagles, scoring 13 points in the semifinal win and averaging 17.3 points through three games. Wilson was terrific in the semifinal win, scoring 23 points and hitting five 3-pointers — including some late baskets to clinch the win. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 7 rebounds.
Sideline Cancer’s backcourt duo of Keene and Creek carried it to the win late in the semis, with both players hitting big shots. Keene, the former Central Michigan star who averaged 30 points his senior year, has carried over his scoring prowess to the TBT. “Marcus Elam,” as he has been referred to due to his late-game heroics, is averaging 20 points and 4.5 assists, and had 22 points in the semis. Creek, who played at Indiana and George Washington, and Remy Abell, who played at Indiana and Xavier, stepped up in the absence of former Maryland big man Diamond Stone, who is out with an injury.
X factors: For Golden Eagles, it’s depth. Golden Eagles used 10 different players in the semifinals, and that didn’t include Andrew Rowsey, who put up huge numbers for Marquette in college. The Marquette alumni have the deepest team in TBT, and can create mismatches due to their versatility and sheer numbers.
“We’re more complete [than last year],” Chapman said. “We got our bench players, just as good as our starters. When we scrimmaged the last three weeks, it’s 50/50. It’s a complete roster. It’s also a brotherhood. Guys bought into their role, put aside individual status, put aside individual minutes. We’re better overall, we’re a family.”
Sideline Cancer might be a team of destiny. Jermaine Marshall, who played his college ball at Arizona State and Penn State and was a standout for past Sideline Cancer teams, passed away in January 2019. The comebacks and late-game heroics have led some players to believe something else is at play this month.
“That was Jermaine Marshall,” Creek told reporters after his game-winning shot. “He would have told me to shoot that every time. I know he’s looking down on us right now.”
Money share: Golden Eagles plan to split the money up evenly, with the head coach and every player getting $90,000 and general manager Daniel Fitzgerald earning $80,000.
Sideline Cancer has a similar approach, with both coaches and every player earning $75,000 and booster Cathy Griffith getting $100,000. Griffith is the president of the Griffith Foundation, which raises money to fight pancreatic cancer; her share would go to the foundation.
Prediction: I have to side with Golden Eagles here. They have the experience of being in this situation before, plus the hunger of losing in the championship game last season. They have the depth and versatility on the perimeter to make life difficult for Keene, and the loss of Stone will hurt Sideline Cancer on the interior. Sideline Cancer won’t have an answer for Jamil Wilson, either; he’s a brutal matchup and continues to hit big shots.
No. 4 Golden Eagles 86, No. 22 Sideline Cancer 81
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