After falling one win short of a championship last season, Golden Eagles took the final step this time around and beat Sideline Cancer 78-73 on Tuesday in the finals of The Basketball Tournament.
The team takes home $1 million in the winner-take-all format. Golden Eagles plan to split the money evenly, with the head coach and every player getting $90,000, and general manager Daniel Fitzgerald earning $80,000.
Last summer, Carmen's Crew finished the title game on an 8-0 run to beat Golden Eagles 66-60. Entering the tournament, Golden Eagles, a team made up of former Marquette players, had the second-most victories all time in TBT but zero championships to show for it.
"It means a lot to us," coach Joe Chapman said. "It was only one step. We knew what we needed to do. We wanted to get that monkey off our back and become a winner. It was our last step and something we needed to do as a team."
Tuesday night's Elam Ending started at 70-70, meaning the first team to reach 78 points would be crowned champion. Golden Eagles scored quickly on an inbounds play, followed by Marcus Keene continuing his hot late-game shooting and burying a 3 for Sideline Cancer. Jamil Wilson hit another big 3 for Golden Eagles. Then Travis Diener ended the game with a corner 3 to give his team the championship.
"The funny thing -- and the great thing -- about the Elam Ending is there's a game-winning shot in every game," Diener said. "When you visualize how it will end, I always visualize winning. Making a shot, making a pass, you hope that opportunity comes. Elgin [Cook] made a great pass, I found myself wide open, and fortunately enough, I made the shot."
Golden Eagles started the game on a 10-2 run, and Keene, Sideline Cancer's leading scorer entering the game, didn't score his first points until 2:30 remained in the first half. Golden Eagles forced nine first-half turnovers, making things difficult for Sideline Cancer by changing defenses. Elgin Cook had 15 points in the first half. Sideline Cancer were able to stay in the game despite Keene's struggles, with Maurice Creek and Remy Abell both hitting double figures in the first half.
Creek gave Sideline Cancer a one-point lead entering halftime after throwing an inbounds pass to himself off a Golden Eagles player and laying the ball in at the buzzer.
"We wanted to make him work for it," Darius Johnson-Odom said of the defense on Keene. "Pick him up full court. Deny him when he gives the ball away. Derrick [Wilson] did a great job on him. Everybody did a great job. He's the head of the snake. We had to find a way."
The Basketball Tournament is the first team sporting event in the United States to complete its run and crown a champion since the coronavirus pandemic shut down sports in March.
"I think I'm most proud of the extent to which everyone bought in," TBT founder Jonathan Mugar said before the game. "We had 400 people reporting, following health and safety protocols. If just one of them just didn't buy in once they got on site, wear a mask, it would have fallen apart, and we would [not] have gotten to the point tonight where we crown a champion."
Tournament organizers pared the tournament -- usually 64 teams -- down to 24 teams and hosted every game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Every player, coach and staff member stayed in a bubble at a downtown hotel, and four replacement teams were brought with the original 24 in case positive tests forced teams to drop out. Four teams were forced to drop out of the field, along with one of the replacement teams. Inside the bubble, only three of 1,200 tests came back positive.
"We didn't really have many expectations coming in. It's never been done before -- not by us or anyone else," Mugar said. "We brought four extra teams into quarantine, lost four teams, along with a quarantine team. That shows you where our heads were in the weeks leading up to it. We were pretty well prepared for it. We did our best to project what would happen and prepare."
Major League Soccer recently started its games in a bubble, and the NBA, WNBA and NHL are scheduled to start in bubbles by the end of the month.
"It is a good model. It's one of the models," Mugar said. "We have a unique format. It's single-elimination and in a short time frame. It helps. As we were preparing for that, we noticed that pretty quickly. These other leagues have a challenge: a longer schedule, regular-season play. Our plan was specifically for our event."