The CNMI Junior Nationals played in the finals of the 2016 U17 Micronesian Basketball Tournament and settled for the silver medal after host Palau won the title match, 62-54, last Saturday at the Palau National Gymnasium in Koror.
The Preston Basa-coach CNMI faltered on its title bid in the five-nation tournament and bowed to Palau anew after a third-quarter offensive meltdown and free throw woes.
The Commonwealth cagers grabbed the lead from Palau at halftime, 29-26, working their way back from a 7-point deficit in the first quarter, 12-19, but scored only three field goals and 8 points in the third to fall behind anew.
Ron Atalig was the only CNMI player to nail more than 2 points in the pivotal third, making two field goals and a pair of free throws. Jethro Cruz added one basket, while Keoni Rios had a split charity.
Rios and Cruz earlier in the second canto combined for 9 points to help Atalig overhaul Palau’s lead. Atalig had 6 markers in the second, while N-Nes Siech tallied the other field goal for the CNMI.
While the visiting team struggled offensively in the third, Palau had its biggest production in that frame, more than doubling the CNMI’s output after firing 20 markers. Omar Ganac and Wallace Worswick provided the needed baskets for the home team with the former scoring 7 straight early in the third canto and the latter also had a string of 7 markers and outgunned the entire CNMI team as he earlier hit Palau’s first field goal in the second half.
Worswick and Ganac gave Palau a 46-37 advantage, going into the fourth quarter and the host kept the upper hand and clinched the championship as the CNMI fell short on its repeated comeback bids after missing a lot of free throws. Basa’s wards went only 7-for-23 from the foul line with none of them knocking in more than two charities.
Cruz, who is a good free throw shooter, was only 1-for-6. Big man Dean Blake had the same poor shooting percentage from the stripe, while Aiferson Atan and Atalig went 2-for-5 and 2-for-4, respectively.
Atalig led the CNMI’s losing cause, finishing the finals with 17 points, while Cruz and Rios chipped in 15 and 13, respectively. Worswick paced Palau with his 29 points.
The 54-point production against Palau was the Commonwealth’s lowest output in the tournament. The CNMI started strong in the MBT, recording 100-plus markers in their victories over Guam, Yap, and Belau. Basa and company then played Palau in their final elimination round game last Thursday and lost, 76-86.
With the defeat, the CNMI dropped to the No. 2 spot and was pitted against No. 3 Guam in the semifinals. The Commonwealth crew knocked out Guam in last Friday’s semis, 82-48, to arrange a winner-take-all finale against Palau, who prevailed over sister team Belau.
Cruz anchored the CNMI’s semis triumph over Guam, as he registered a game-high 20 points.
Palau 62— Worswick 29, Baysa 10, Ganac 9, De Lina 6, Bukkurou 4, Timarong 4.
CNMI 54 — Atalig 17, Cruz 15, Rios 13, Siech 4, Atan 2, Kintaro 2, Blake 1.
Scoring by quarters: 19-12, 26-29, 46-37, 62-54.
CNMI 82 — Cruz 20, Kintaro 16, Atalig 12, Blake 9, Rios 6, Atan 6, Paragados 4, Castro 3.
Guam 48 — Quinene 12, Cabral 10, Fegurgur 8, Borja 5, Taitano 4, Soriano 2, Stanley 2, Pelkey 2.
Scoring by quarters: 18-19, 35-28, 55-42, 82-48.