The big ticket of the All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) might have been the Senior’s division match at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night, but it was the game just before — the Intermediate division finals — that stole the show and all the drama of the tourney’s final day.
Facing the defending champion intermediate Skidegate Saints, a team that had not lost all week and one who plays together on Haida Gwaii almost every day, one could forgive the Metlakatla, Alaska crew from having a little stage fright, having once played them before in the round robin earlier in the week and losing 74-62.
And they were right to be hesitant about their chances in the early-going. Down 20-10 after the first quarter and with the Saints going almost Harlem Globetrotters on them, with quad-A high school star Jesse Barnes and fellow Saint Joel Richardson scoring 14 points between them in that quarter alone, Metlakatla was reeling.
But they dug deep and soon found the stuff they knew they were made of in the second frame.
The Taquan Chiefs went on an 11-0 run, fuelled by Todd Yliniemi, voted Best Defensive Player and Intermediate tourney MVP, Erik Hudson and Moses Nix, to catch up and even take the lead over their Skidegate rivals 21-20.
From there, it was a game of inches as each team traded baskets up until the final minutes of the fourth quarter where the three key Chiefs outlasted the Saints and pulled away with the closest-won match of all the divisional finals in their 79-74 victory, toppling the defending champs.
“You know, we heard about [the Saints] coming into the tournament so we knew it was going to be tough. And that first loss to them made us come through the back door to win,” said Hudson, who was named a tournament all-star and scored 16 points in the pivotal third quarter.
“We got an idea of who their big guys were and we focused on those players and we just tried to shut them down. They ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.”
Hudson’s 29 points paced the Chiefs with Nix garnering 16 points and Yliniemi sinking 14 to lead the team in blue.
The heavily pro-Saints crowd was silenced when Hudson made both of his free throws to put the game out of reach with three seconds left and Barnes’ 27 points and Richardson’s 23 came up short, as they paced the Saints offensively.
Grant Moody had 12 points and Kostan Levirs sank six for the Saints as well in the effort.
“We just found the guys that had hot hands and we gave them the ball. We just played intense basketball. We’ve done this all our lives and [told ourselves] let’s not forget what we know how to do,” said Hudson.
“It’s exciting. We haven’t been to this tournament since 2008. We haven’t won it since 2005 so it’s been quite a few years. Our community’s probably going nuts at home. They’re streaming the games right now and they’re watching … It means so much to our community.
“We fundraise for it coming up to it – we’ve put in a lot of practice, a lot of work. It feels good to have that final result.”
Moses Nix was named Mr. Hustle. Jesse Barnes of Skidegate was Tournament High Scorer and teammate Joel Richardson was named Most Inspirational. Jakob Henry from the Sons of Kincolith was named Most Inspirational and Thomas Ryan of Lax Kw’alaams took the Sixth Man award.
Tournament all-stars included Erik Hudson and Moses Nix of Metlakatla, Alaska, Jesse Barnes and Brandon Gibbard of Skidegate, Colton Murrell and Shane Stewart of Gitxsan, John Sampson and Kyle Alexcee of Lax Kw’alaams, Perry Terrell and Jakob Henry of Kincolith and Damon Reece of Old Massett.