Two hours before game time in an empty Johnson College of Technology gym two of the ABA’s newest teams get shots up before their professional debuts.
“With all games, you always get that nervous bug, a little bit of butterflies in your stomach,” said point guard Travis Conyers pregame. “But after the ball is tipped it’s just straight basketball, I’m pretty sure once the lights go on everybody will get the jitters out of their stomach,” he added.
With both teams playing their first official games in the ABA there was a buzz around the gym from the stands and on the court. From players to coaches everyone was excited and ready for the game to get started.
“I’m pumped,” said Shamrocks Owner John Bucci. “Any time you can open up doors for people to continue playing that is really why we are out. We are out here to give everyone an opportunity to be successful in what they want to do in life,” he added. “I’m super excited it is going to be fun to get back on the sideline again being able to make adjustments in-game, and on the fly, I don’t know how else to put it, but it’s going to be a great feeling,” said Shamrocks Coach Kevin Clark.
The NY Lightning got off to a fast start opening up the game with three consecutive baskets as they pushed the pace on offense. Scranton had a tough time getting their shots to fall in the first three minutes of the game. But back-to-back three-pointers would give them the momentum they needed to get an early 10-point lead. The Lightning would force some turnovers and go on an 11-4 run towards the end of the quarter to cut the deficit to three after the first period.
Although the ABA follows many of the regular NBA and NCAA rules, they do have some very unique rules such as the “3D rule”. The “3D rule” allows a team who gets a turnover before the ball reaches the frontcourt a chance to earn an extra point, which means every field goal receives an extra point. This was a rule the Shamrocks would use to their advantage.
Early in the second quarter, the Shamrocks would be able to force turnovers with their full court press which led to back to back four-point plays (three-pointers +1 extra point). The Shamrocks would be hot all game from the three-point line going 16-26 from beyond the arc.
Shamrocks small forward Brandon Angradi who was unconscious from deep (6-9) finished the game with 22 points. While center Ayuub Ali finished with 21 points to help Scranton get a 152-111 win.
“They were good, I’m happy with how hard they played the entire game, I would like to see our conditioning get up there a bit more but I think overall it was a great first experience,” said Coach Clark in his postgame interview. “We were trying to use our speed and athleticism on defense, obviously that 3D rule helps when we are able to get those steals early,” he added.
With a shorthanded roster for their first game, the Lightning tried their best to keep pace with the Shamrocks, but fatigue was clearly setting in mid-way through the third quarter. The Lightning who struggled with foul trouble only had five players left to play early in the fourth quarter.
Every time the Lightning went on a run, Scranton just countered with their own run. Although it seemed the Shamrocks could not miss, New York would not go down without a fight.
Small Forward Chris St. Rose who finished with 18 points could be heard on the court telling his teammates to keep fighting and encouraging them every chance he got.
“Chris is big for our team both on and off the court even at everybody hears him, he’s always up today was no different, soon as we hit the locker room he told everybody not to get down,” said Conyers.
It was clear the Lightning were a different team in the second half more aggressive on both offense and defense. New York only allowed 67 points in the second half but was unable to overcome the significant deficit they faced after halftime.
“I feel like in the first half we were a little shaky on defense and our chemistry was not there enough on offense,” said Conyers. “Towards the second half we got a lot better, but that just comes with practice, we get back to the gym, and we’ll be fine,” he added.
Coach Willie Negron was proud of his team’s effort especially with the circumstance of a shorthanded roster and being on the road.
“I feel good, first of all just being in the ABA, the score doesn’t show the result of what we did, I’m so proud of them. Whether you have five or ten players at the end of the day the show goes on, and you have to do what you have to do for 48 minutes,” said Coach Negron. “We have a lot of work to do during the middle of the week before our next scheduled ABA game, but I’m very proud of my guys,” he added.
The NY Lightning will take on rival the Bronx Holy Flames on Saturday, February 03, 2018, at Justice Sonia Sotomayor Community Center in the Bronx.