Golden Eagles, 2nd in total wins, win 1st TBT title

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After falling one win short of a championship last season, Golden Eagles took the final step this time around and beat Sideline Cancer in the finals of The Basketball Tournament on Tuesday, 78-73.

The team takes home $1 million in the winner-take-all format. 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.

Last summer, Carmen’s Crew finished the title game on an 8-0 run to beat the Golden Eagles, 66-60. Entering the tournament, Golden Eagles had the second-most victories all-time in TBT — but zero championships to show for it. That changed this year.

Tuesday night’s Elam Ending started at 70-70, meaning the first team to reach 78 points would be crowned champion. Golden Eagles scored quickly on an inbounds play, followed by Sideline Cancer’s Marcus Keene continuing his hot late-game shooting and burying a 3. Jamil Wilson hit another big 3 for Golden Eagles, and Travis Diener ended the game and with a corner 3 to give them the championship.

Golden Eagles started the game on a 10-2 run, and Sideline Cancer’s leading scorer entering the game, Marcus Keene, didn’t score his first points until 2:30 remained in the first half. They forced nine first-half turnovers, making things difficult for Sideline Cancer by changing defenses. Elgin Cook had 15 points in the first half. Sideline Cancer was able to stay in the game despite Keene’s struggles, with Maurice Creek and Remy Abell both hitting double-figures in the first half.

Creek gave Sideline Cancer a one-point lead entering halftime after throwing an inbounds pass to himself off a Golden Eagles player and laying the ball in at the buzzer.

The Basketball Tournament is the first team sporting event in the United States to complete its season and crown a champion since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports back in March.

“I think I’m most proud of the extent to which everyone bought in,” TBT founder Jonathan Mugar said before the game. “We had 400 people reporting, following health and safety protocols. If just one of them just didn’t buy in once they got on site, wear a mask, it would have fallen apart and we would [not] have gotten to the point tonight, where we crown a champion.”

Tournament organizers pared the tournament — usually 64 teams — down to 24 teams and hosted every game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Every player, coach and staff member stayed in a bubble at a downtown Hyatt, and four replacement teams were brought with the original 24 in case positive tests forced teams to drop out. Ultimately, four teams were forced to drop out of the field, along with one of the replacement teams. Inside the bubble, only three of 1200 tests came back positive.

“We didn’t really have many expectations coming in; it’s never been done before, not by us or anyone else,” Mugar said. “We brought four extra teams into quarantine, lost four teams, along with a quarantine team. That shows you where our heads were in the weeks leading up to it. We were pretty well-prepared for it. We did our best to project what would happen and prepare.”

Major League Soccer started its games in a bubble recently, while the NBA, WNBA and NHL are scheduled to start in bubbles by the end of the month.

“It is a good model. It’s one of the models,” Mugar said. “We have a unique format, it’s single-elimination and in a short time frame. It helps. As we were preparing for that, we noticed that pretty quickly. These other leagues have a challenge: a longer schedule, regular-season play. Our plan was specifically for our event.”

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