This is the matchup that Delta Force had been craving all season: A chance to knock off reigning MVP Scott Williams and end the Uptempo’s annual appearance on the Garden floor. It’s been over a month since the two teams have met in what ended in a 49-41 victory for DF and it was clear that neither team forgot how close that game was, as the elbows and trash talk were spewing all over the court. Williams forced the effort early, and went 0-5 in the first half (six points in the first half, which were all from the free throw line). But back court mate, Nick Blatchford (14 points) made his best Brandon Roy impression, coming back from a leg injury-that sidelined him for a little over a month-like he never left. Blatchford’s nine points in the first half carried the load for Uptempo in the first half.
DF all-star Erskin Felix (five points) was on the grind down low, making second effort plays and put backs to keep DF on top, 15-12 with six minutes to go in the half. Teammate Damian Bulluck nailed a tre-bomb to give the dirty-Delta the 18-12 lead. The momentum swung late in the first when a tech was called on DF for having too many guys on the court. Trailing 18-13, Williams hit two free throws, and Jarek Carethers (12 points, eight rebounds) scored and and-one on the block after they retained possession, giving Uptempo a five-point swing (18-18). The men in Blue would take a 21-19 lead into the half, when Blatchford hit a three off the assist from Jeff Chen to close out the first.
After a quiet three points in the first half, Treasure Kyn Neal (12 points, five rebounds) tied the game with a layup to start the second half. However, the tandem of Williams (14 points, four assists) and Carethers went on a 6-0 run to give Uptempo their first real lead of the game. Veteran play from team captain, Terrence Chin (two steals in two minutes, plus a put back) pushed the lead to 29-21. But TKN rallied again for three unanswered buckets, to make it a two-point differential.
Midway through the second, after Uptempo re-built a five point edge, Williams and Carethers finish on an unconventional give and go, that had Williams take to the air and make a last second effort to give the rock up to Carethers for the easy deuce and a 38-28 lead. TKN answered with a three but with the score in their favor, Uptempo ran down 2:30 from the clock and ended the possession with a layup to push their lead to nine with a little over 2 minutes left. Mike Won (13 points, five rebounds) hit a three late in the game but Uptempo held on and for revenge in the re-match.
Blatchford says he was anxious about his return but felt fine once the game got underway.
“I was just nervous about re-injuring my leg but once we started running, I felt fine,” he said. “I got to come in off the bench and see where I could be effective. I saw how aggressive they were being on the perimeter defense, so I figured I needed to get to the rim.”
When asked how Uptempo has been able to peak at the right moment, after a less than stellar season, Blatchford said, “We knew that there are two seasons in NRF. We played well last week and we keep it going. If we play defense like we should, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”