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Yellow Jackets come out sluggish, rally for home opener win


Last updated 11/22/2022 at 9:44pm

Thomas Leturgey

It's been an active six months for the Steel City Yellow Jackets since winning the American Basketball Association (ABA) National Championship last April. Plus, there is the novelty of being the championship team for the first time since the club was formed in 2014. And the nervousness was shown in the first quarter of the Yellow Jacket's home opener Saturday night in Allentown.

While Ace Pippens' club never once trailed in this contest, they did face a game Beaver County Indians team. Wayne Cureton's club came out with all cylinders in the early going and made the Yellow Jackets earn every bucket.

Guard Amaru Caldwell got things going in the early moments of the game with a three pointer. Forward Dominick McClung, who played a key role in this victory, scored a jumper from low under the basket to get things started.

Tashaun Goode and Kareem Howard scored to make the score 6-5 with 9:35 to go in the first; and that's as close as the Indians would come.

Throughout the first 12 minutes, Tim and James Jackson would score early to start putting a cushion between the two Western Pennsylvania teams. An emotional James Jackson missed a shot, was beaten for the rebound, raced after Beaver County's Brent Johnson and swatted the ball away. Jackson was called for a foul, but Johnson missed both free throws.

The Yellow Jackets would then score 13 unanswered points. Brandon Burnett would enter the game to spell McClung and help set up James Jackson's bucket to make it 19-5.

Stephon McGinnis would have an outstanding game for the Indians and help trim the lead to 19-10. Kenny Holmes entered the game from the bench and did what he does best, add a spark to the offense. He landed two jumpers and a free throw to make it 23-10.

McGinnis and Marcus Millien helped keep the Indians close. Holmes would score and McClung hit an emphatic dunk to extend the lead to 27-18. Demitri Ford, Brent Johnson and Randy Whitley helped turn the tide for Beaver County and make it 29-24 at the end of the first 12 minutes of play.

At the conclusion of the first quarter, Tim Jackson would take a spill and appeared to be shaken up. Lucky for the Yellow Jackets, the injury was temporary, and he returned after a few moments.

Last season, the Yellow Jackets would generally have one quarter in which the opposition would trim what had been a big lead. Not often did the club slide early.

Around this time, Co-Captain Gilmore Cummings pulled a calf muscle. A starter, he didn't return for the rest of the game.

The National Champions came out well in the second quarter, but so did Beaver County. James Jackson, Brandon Johnson and Kenny Holmes scored, but Kenny Scott and Stephon McGinnis. For the first time in the game, the Yellow Jackets scored often, with Tim Jackson's three-pointer providing some breathing room at 50-37.

At 5:12 in the second, Holmes took a hard fall near the far side of the court. He was slow to get up, but quick to get back into the game.

Frequently throughout the night, players slipped on condensation and towels were used to mop up a wet floor. Holmes spent 30 seconds on the bench.

Both teams found scoring futile in the second half of the quarter. Millien got on the scoreboard when totals did increase. Tim Jackson, Brandon Johnson and Brandon Burnett all scored in the closing moments.

Brandon Johnson hit a three pointer and was knocked to the floor. He added a free throw to extend the Yellow Jackets' lead to 68-55 at the half.

For much of halftime, the Yellow Jackets stayed out of the locker room. Some players shot around, while others just talked amongst themselves and waited for the second half. With a few moments left in the half, they did go for a quick meeting with Pippens and Assistant Coach Mike Mott.

When the second half began, the Yellow Jackets came out without the sluggishness of the first period. Amaru Caldwell, Kenny Holmes and Tim Jackson led the way. At one point, Holmes was racing up and down the court on offense and defense. When he hit a three-pointer with 8:57 to go in the third, the Yellow Jackets were up 85-61.

McClung scored and James Jackson slammed one home to make it 89-64. Holmes and Tim Jackson keep the pressure up but Millien and Kaezon Pugh were keeping the Indians in the trenches.

Brandons Burnett and Johnson scored in the final moments, to make it 111-84 at the end of three quarters.

By the time the fourth quarter started, the Yellow Jackets had started to run at full capacity. Tim Jackson, Brandon Johnson and McClung scored to stretch the lead to 118-84. Holmes would hit a 3D to make it 129-84, and the route was on.

Both teams took a great number of three-point attempts in the quarter. At one point, James Jackson bounced a ball off the backboard in an attempt at a crowd-pleasing dunk.

Holmes proved to be the team's early-season MVP, with Tim Jackson not far behind. The Indians hit two three-pointers to close out the game, 150-107.

Holmes led all players with 38 points. Tim Jackson added 25 and twin James posted 24, as did Brandon Johnson (who sustained a hip injury and will be day-to-day). Amaru Caldwell, who hit two three-pointers in the first quarter and two more in the fourth, finished with 16. McClung, who added a healthy presence under the basket the team lacked last season, added 13. Cameron Wiley had six and Brandon Burnett four.

McGinnis had 26 points for the visitors, and Millien had 21.

The Yellow Jackets return to A Giving Heart Community Center next Saturday as they take on the Naptown Pros from Indiana.


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