Nite Lites Falls Two Short in Top Gun Final

by Jemele Hill - The Plain Dealer (8/12/96)

Constantine G. Pergantis said it was going to be difficult to find four guys who could beat his teams in the Hoop-It-Up tournament in the Flats yesterday.
Ron Rutland of Team Nike drives against Mitch Mercer of Nite Lites.

Pergantis was right. Nite-Lites, one of two teams Pergantis entered in the three-on-three basketball tournament, trampled most of the teams in its division before losing, 22-20, to Team Nike in the Top Gun division championship game.

As part of Hoop-It-Up rules, teams in the championship game play up to 21 points, and the winners must win by two. Shots made inside the 20-foot line are one point and shots made outside the line are two points.

"Second is not bad out of a couple of thousand teams," said Pergantis, whose other team lost in the semifinals. "We'll just go back and try harder. It was a good game played with two good teams."

Marred by fatigue and an offense that got off to a slow start, Nite-Lites fell behind Team Nike, 14-7, at one point. It was the first time in the tournament Nite-Lites did not have the lead.

Nite-Lites scored another point to make-it 14-8, on a foul shot made by Jia Simms. But after that, they went seven minutes without scoring a basket, and allowed Team Nike an easy 5-0 run.

"We were getting out of the rhythm of the game and allowing the calls to take the big men out of the game," said Pergantis, who named his teams after the Maryland-based indoor and outdoor lighting company he is president of. "They were calling defensive fouls and offensive fouls on them. They were taken out of the game completely."

Down, 18-10, Nite-Lites' Mitch Mercer stepped up and connected on three straight 2-pointers to pull them within three.

"They started really looking for the two and stopped looking for the big guys," Team Nike member Marcus Fisher said. "[Mercer] hit some big shots, but we were able to execute down the stretch to win."

Mercer had a chance to tie the game, but as he went up for an-other 2-pointer, Team Nike member Brett Etherington stripped the ball. His teammate, Doc Hicks, was fouled and made good on his free throw to make it 20-16.

Needing only one point to win, Team Nike allowed Nite-Lites' Davon Kelly to make a desperation 2-pointer from the top of the key to pull within two. Mercer followed Kelly with a 2-pointer of his own, his fourth of the game, that tied the score, 20-20.

"I just hit a desperation state," said Mercer, who had won the last two games for his team with shots from the 2-point line. "We were complacent in the beginning. We got down far and that's when we started to play. We did a great deal of planning for this. We hoped we would be more successful."

But Team Nike's Ron Rutland, whose slashing drives to the basket had made Nite-Lites' defense look nonexistent, shook Mercer and went to the basket for an easy layup that gave his team a one-point advantage.

Expecting Rutland to come with another penetrating drive on the next possession, Mercer and Kelley double-teamed Rutland But, their defensive wall was torn down by a surprise pick-and-roll play that ended the game and gave Team Nike its fourth championship win in a major city this year.

"We beat a good team in the semifinals and we had a lot confidence coming into the championship game," Fisher said. "We got off to a good start, then their defense tightened up on us. I'm just glad we were able to win this tournament."

In the women's Top Gun division, Hard Knox defeated Team Desiree, 16-8. About 1,200 team participated in the tournament with the winners moving on to the regionals. A location for the regionals has yet to be announced.

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