Two weeks ago, the Steel City Yellow Jackets defeated the New Jersey Knights 140-124, leveraging the American Basketball Association (ABA) specific “3 D” rules. Whenever a team earns a turnover in the opposing team’s side of the court, the “3D” red light is activated, offering the chance for an extra point. This means a 2-point jumper is worth three on the scoreboard, and so on. When the Yellow Jackets are pressing, they often capitalize on these “bonus” opportunities.
On January 28, Ace Pippens’ team connected on their fair share of “3D buckets.” After the game, a high-ranking Knights official was overheard calling the defending ABA National Champions “overrated” and claiming that “if it wasn’t for 3D’s,” the Knights would have won in an upset. The Yellow Jackets remembered.
Before the game, still-new point guard Ryan Montoya was practicing and swooshing three-pointers from well behind the stripe. This workout foreshadowed his performance in the game. Montoya scored the first points right after the jump ball between Dominick McClung and the Knights’ Marquail Hardiman. Curtis Forchner tied the game at two, but Montoya hit an identical three-pointer to make it 5-2.
That was as close as the New Jersey Knights would get all evening.
Claude Scott, Jr., who had his best game of the season two weeks ago in New Jersey, connected on the first of many 3D opportunities to make it 8-2 with 9:30 left in the first quarter. In an immediate 3D opportunity, James Jackson was fouled but made all 3 free throws. Montoya continued his hot streak with another 3D jumper, pushing the score to 18-4. James Jackson’s 3D shot from behind the 3-point line made it 22-4. Up 24-4 with 7:34 remaining, the Knights’ Arthur Mitchell argued with officials over missed foul calls.
James and Tim Jackson turned up the pressure, and the returning Tone Reddic, Sr. (who missed last weekend’s game against Central Pennsylvania) entered the game, hitting a three-pointer to make it 36-6. Amaru Caldwell, expected to fill the void left by Kenny Holmes’ move to another league, scored two consecutive three-pointers. Caldwell even added a four-point 3D jumper as the Yellow Jackets overwhelmed the Knights. Brandons Johnson and Burnett, as well as Reddic, contributed to ending the first quarter with a 56-10 lead. Two weeks ago, the Yellow Jackets had led the Knights 35-22.
The second quarter was a bit slower. The Yellow Jackets’ full-court press was effective throughout the game. Despite the growing lead, Knights Coach Robert Whetham’s team did not give up. Marquail Hardiman and Curtis Forchner played for pride even as the score ballooned. Captains Reddic and Scott led the way in the second quarter, and McClung scored to make it 71-20. Reddic, fouled hard with less than six minutes remaining, missed both free throws but scored in the paint right after.
James Jackson and Montoya came on, with Montoya energizing the team with a 4-point shot on a 3D takeaway.
At this point, the Knights, who traveled with only eight players, appeared exhausted against the run-and-gun Yellow Jackets. Reddic, Tim Jackson, and Scott scored (Claude’s on a 3D) to extend a 96-27 lead at halftime.
Right after intermission, Montoya, McClung, and Tim Jackson scored to make it 101-27. McClung dunked during a 3D opportunity for 104-27. Montoya added another three-pointer, and Knights Coach Whetham questioned why the Yellow Jackets still employed the press defense against his depleted team.
Coach Ace Pippens later said he never heard the inquiry.
Unfortunately for New Jersey, the Yellow Jackets needed a game like this as a character builder. With the playoffs approaching (only six regular-season games remain, plus a February 19 home contest against West Virginia’s Tri-State Blazers), the Yellow Jackets have two losses, the same as last season. With Kenny Holmes’ departure, the uncertain immediate future of center Artis Cleveland in Pittsburgh, and nagging injuries to veteran Gilmore Cummings, the defending ABA Champions need to find their late-season identity. This game served as a confidence booster for many players and the team in general.
Timothy Jackson scored, Scott dunked, and Jackson scored again to make it 130-30 with 5:35 to go in the third quarter. VaShawn Howard came on strong, stretching the lead to 138-35. The Yellow Jackets never let up, and the Knights tried to keep the lead under 100 points. Claude Scott, Jr. argued with the officials and was threatened with ejection, but that never came to pass. The Jackson twins scored frequently, and Tim hit a three-pointer at the end of the third to make it 151-52.
The Knights played their strongest quarter in the fourth. The Yellow Jackets would only outscore the visitors 49-37 in the final 12 minutes. Hardiman tried to prove a point by scoring on a dunk and some inside play in the opening moments. Brandon Johnson scored for the home team, and Reddic added offense, including a 3D in the closing seconds. James Jackson’s 3D three-pointer pushed the Yellow Jackets to a 200-89 victory.
James Jackson led all scorers with a season-high 42 points. Antonio Reddic, Sr. had 34, Timothy Jackson added 31, and Claude Scott, Jr. contributed 27. Ryan Montoya had a season-high 21, Brandon Johnson added 17, Amaru Caldwell scored 12, VaShawn Howard 11, Dominick Howard 3, and Brandon Burnett 2. The Yellow Jackets are now 11-2.
This is the first time the Yellow Jackets have scored 200 or more points in two games during the same season, according to Pippens. The Yellow Jackets won 213-65 against the Bridgeport Bombers on December 10.
Curtis Forchner scored 30 for the Knights, and Marquail Hardiman posted a strong 28, with Arthur Mitchell adding 14.
The Steel City Yellow Jackets return to A Giving Heart Community Center next Saturday to take on the D.C. Soul, with tip-off at 7:00 p.m.