COLORADO SPRINGS – Powered by a strong second-half defensive performance yesterday, the Marine Corps wheelchair basketball team triumphed 42-21 over the Army squad during the 2014 Warrior Games at the United States Olympic Training Center.
The win, the first for the Marines over Army, qualified the team to compete in the gold medal round.
The Marine Corps and Army wheelchair basketball squads clashed on the hardwood in the evening’s marquee game, providing plenty of excitement for their enthusiastic fans despite nearly an hour delay before the tip-off due to an archery event requiring a shoot-off.
Nevertheless, both services’ fans clapped, stomped and shouted encouragement to their teams as the game began. This game was a tale of two halves for both teams.
Army led by a slight margin throughout the opening half as the Marines hung with them basket-for-basket. Carried by spectators’ cheers, the teams went into halftime with the Army team leading 16-14, having the benefit of more opportunities from the free-throw line.
However, things changed very quickly in the second half as the Army turned the ball over, foreshadowing one of the issues that would plague them throughout the remainder of the game.
The Marines clearly re-grouped during the half and came out with a fierce defensive display, employing full-court, man-to-man pressure. Making the most of this strategy, the Marines forced several turnovers and tied the game almost immediately.
Marines take the lead for good
Following another Army turnover, the Marines took the lead and never looked back. The Marine squad’s plan led to some forced and unforced turnovers, multiple three-second violations and visible frustration from their Army opponents.
Despite the Army squad’s valiant efforts to stay close, the Marines poured on baskets, earning trips to the charity stripe, and enjoying their 31-16 lead.
Ultimately, the Marines earned a trip to the gold medal round while seeing their long-running quest to defeat the Army team come to fruition, 42-21.
Army coach is philosophical
After the game, Jermell Pennie, the Army team’s head basketball coach, discussed how his team can improve.
“It’s a learning experience,” he said. “We didn’t come out with the right intensity ... But then as time went on, we got a little upset at each other, pointing the fingers here and there.
“It’s sports. You’re going to have your ups and downs or whatever,” Pennie continued. “We have another game tomorrow. [If] we win that game, we’ll see them again.”
Pennie said his team lacked intensity.
“I think if we bring intensity from the get-go, I think we’ll be fine,” he said.
Staying confident despite loss
Army player retired Sgt. 1st Class Charles Armstead said he’ll make sure his team remains confident.
“Stay confident, stay calm, stay patient [and] we’ll be okay,” he said. “We got a little flustered; we got a little out of our game plan.
“If we run our game plan … we’ll be fine,” Armstead continued. “In the first half we did a much better job executing the game plan. Second half, they gave us a little pressure and we fell apart a little bit.”
Armstead said he and his team will “just forget” this game since it’s over and there’s nothing they can do about it. But, they aren’t taking this loss lightly, he added.
“We definitely plan on seeing them again,” Armstead said, “so if we play tomorrow they’re going to be in for a treat. We’re pretty ticked off right now. This is our first loss, ever, in five years now, so we’re not taking that too lightly.”
Marines respect Army basketball squad
Marine Corps Pfc. Erik Webb said in the first half his team had to get rid of its jitters.
“We haven’t beat the Army in three-plus years, so we were all a little nervous,” Webb said. “We were overthinking plays that were really simple.
“[In] the second half, we were like, ‘Hey, everybody take a breath. Shots are going to come, the defense is there, so don’t worry about it,’” he continued. “They ended up [only] scoring five points in the second half.”
Reflections after victory
Webb said his team is feeling just great after the victory.
“We’re going to the gold [medal round],” he said. “That’s what we came for, practiced for, so we’re on top of the world right now.”
Webb has a message for the Army team in the event that they meet again on the hardwood.
“Best believe, the Marine Corps is coming back,” he said. “We will beat the Army.”