The Taunton Tigers U16 boys can hold their heads high despite losing in the first round of the playoffs, 66 – 50, bringing the team's season to an end—but what an end!
Haringey Hawks went undefeated in 18 regular season games in a largely London-based conference and averaged 94 points per game. The boys, however, were determined to make the three-hour journey to North London and give a good account of themselves, and they did that and so much more.
Right from the opening few minutes Haringey faced a very active and aggressive Taunton defence and were frustrated when they couldn't penetrate and get to the rim, which is the key to their offence. While Taunton failed to execute in the half-court or get any conversions off of the break and only managed four points in the opening 10 minutes, the Hawks high-powered offence only scored 13 points of their own.
Tigers continued to stymie the hosts half-court and running attack and the lead remained at nine, 18 – 9 with five minutes gone in the second quarter. It was at that point that the Hawks got their fast-break going and went on a 10 – 0 run to increase its lead to 19 points with two minutes left in the half. Following a timeout, the U16s came out on a run of their own, scoring the game's three next baskets to close the margin to 13 points. A Haringey three-pointer in the dying seconds made the half-time score 31 – 15 in the host's favour, but there was no doubt which team was the happiest going into the break.
Coach Crncich commented,
“We were losing the game, trailing by 16 points and only managed to put 15 on the scoreboard, but there was no doubt we were the happiest group at the break. Our defence set the tone right from the get-go and the Hawks coach was so upset with his players that when they came off the floor they had to do press-ups, and then he made the whole team do them in between quarters. That team average almost 50 points in the first half throughout the season and we were really frustrating them. We went into the half and came out of it with a real belief that we could cause a big upset.”
While Tigers got inside for the half's opening score, turnovers sparked the Haringey offence and the team stretched its lead to 20 after five minutes. The way the hosts were starting to play it looked dire for Taunton, but two quick successive jumpers from Yosef Elo Gab cut the margin to 16, 37 – 21. Hawks scored the game's next five points before Tigers hit back with a two-point bucket. The hosts established a 22-point lead with two minutes left in the quarter, but baskets from Matt Parks and Jack Penny, cut the margin to 18. Two unanswered scores from the Hawks meant the visitors went into the final quarter down 21, 48 – 27.
The hosts hit the first basket of the fourth period to gain their biggest lead of the game, up by 23 points. It didn't faze the never-say-die Tigers, however, which then went on a 9 – 1 run that included a big three-pointer from David Grenfell to cut the lead to 15. After the Taunton run, Haringey called two successive timeouts without the ball even being inbounded and with six minutes left in the game.
The break seemed to work for the hosts as they then went on a 10 – 2 run to once again lead by 23 points now with only four minutes to play. It would have been no surprise if Tigers threw in the towel with the game seemingly out of reach but the Taunton team came to play that day and would not simply give up. Tigers answered Haringey's run with a 7 – 2 spurt of it own, which was followed by a three from the hosts. Again, Tigers were not done leaving their mark in North London and finished the last two minutes of the game outscoring Haringey 7 – 2 and went out with a very respectable 16 point loss.
Elo Gab lead all Tigers scorers with 19 points, and a number of assists to fellow big man Kai Little off of Taunton's high-low attack against the Haringey zone. Jack Penny chipped in eight after only playing limited minutes due to illness, Dom Hinchliffe scored seven and Little and Grenfell had six each.
Taunton travelled with six first year players and all of them got minutes in the game.
Coach Crncich says,
“I don't think I have ever been more happy or proud of a team following a loss than I was on Sunday. I can look back on the game and go through all the ‘what-ifs’—what if we had this or that player available, what if we only boxed out better at times, what if we didn't turn the ball over at this or that point of the game, what if we could have executed on offence in the first half like we did in the second, etc., etc. But at the end of the day each and every one of those young men who put on the orange and black worked hard, competed, battled and hustled from the opening tip to the last second of the game, and what more can a coach ask? If I have taught them anything this year it is to never give up no matter what the scoreboard says and if they can continue to do that as they progress, then I will consider this a good season no matter the number of wins and losses, where we finished in our conference or how we did in the playoffs.“