NEW BRITAIN - It didn’t matter how airtight the 2 Official (New Britain) basketball team’s defense was on Mike Anderson, the 6-foot-4 star guard of Flight Fam (Hartford) wasn’t going to be stopped.
Anderson drained six 3-pointers and capped a game-high 35 points by nailing three of his final four free throws in the final 17 seconds of Sunday afternoon’s Open Division title game at the Osgood Shootout, carrying Flight Fam to a championship with a 75-71 victory at New Britain High School.
With his team trailing by one point in a semifinal game just hours before the title bout, Anderson buried a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer and he parlayed that momentum right over into the tournament’s final game. Anderson was named MVP of the tournament, a deserved honor after sensational sequences against 2 Official, especially one late in the second half.
With a little less than 8 minutes remaining, Anderson’s series of dribble moves nearly the baseline gave him a sliver of space and he capitalized by smoothly using some touch to drop in a soft bucket high off the glass in traffic. Moments later, after 2 Official forward Darius Watson had nailed a 3-pointer, Anderson came right back down and nailed two straight treys off the dribble to give Flight Fam a 59-53 lead with 5:15 remaining.
His second triple came on a stepback jumper, with 2 Official defender Ryan Vilmont draped all over him. It didn’t matter. Anderson was too good.
“He was right in his face, but he [Anderson] had a better shot. That’s all,” Watson said. “You’ve gotta [faceguard] him and deny him the ball. But we were all worn out. We were tired and couldn’t contain him. It didn’t even matter. I was just praying he was gonna miss a couple shots, but he made everything.”
Just about everybody got a piece of Anderson, including Watson, on Sunday. And just about all of them walked away shaking their heads in frustration.
“He’s a great player,” Watson said. “He’s a tough matchup. Tough to guard. He’s 6-foot-4, got a great jump shot and great handles. He can do everything. It’s hard to contain that kid.”
It was a tight, back-and-forth affair throughout the entire game, the biggest first-half lead coming at the 17-minute mark when Flight Fam grabbed a 10-5 lead on Anderson’s first three.
Anderson and Watson traded three-point buckets on back-to-back possessions for a 21-21 stalemate, and Anderson followed by hitting a two-point jumper. After a driving layup by Jaquan Waters gave Flight Fam a 31-28 lead with 45 seconds left, a long three at the halftime buzzer from Tre Butler rimmed out.
Two consecutive stepback threes by Anderson gave Flight Fam a 42-36 lead with less than 13 minutes to go in the second half, and they extended that cushion to 68-59 with 1:07 remaining.
New Britain’s club clawed back, however, as Watson, Vilmont and Butler each drained a 3-pointer, and Vilmont went 3-for-3 from the line after being fouled on another attempt.
Butler’s three came from the corner and cut the team’s deficit to 72-71 with 18 ticks left, and Anderson missed his second of two free throws. Tylon Smith Jr. corralled the defensive rebound, drove the length of the court, but his contested layup was off the mark.
Anderson iced the game at the foul line to stifle a comeback from a gassed 2 Official squad who had beaten fellow New Britain team Blaze Barber Shop hours before in the semifinals.
“It was tough,” Watson said. “We were tired from playing all day.”
Watson, a 2010 New Britain grad and former Hurricanes basketball star, may have been exhausted after the tournament, but that didn’t stop him from taking pride in a weekend that means a lot to him.
“All these players look forward to this every year. It’s a big tournament for us, especially for me because I love playing for Coach Shaw so I try to perform every summer,” Watson said. “It’s special. I’m from New Britain. I’ve got my name on the wall and pictures everywhere. I love it.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org