SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The play wasn’t designed for Marcel Anderson, but with a tie score and not much time remaining, he did not have much choice but to seize an opportunity.
Anderson hit a short jumper with 20.6 seconds left to spark the Maine Red Claws over the Springfield Armor 93-89 Sunday before 1,420 at the MassMutual Center.
The Red Claws and Armor were deadlocked at 88-88 and the play called for Chris Wright to take the shot. But the Armor paid close attention to Wright and Anderson saw an opportunity to freelance.
It was a great decision.
“It didn’t hurt at all,” Anderson said. “I had to make a quick decision.”
Not only did Anderson (13 points) break the tie, he also drew a foul. The Armor protested vehemently and got slapped with a technical foul.
Chris Babb (8 points, 8 rebounds) sank the technical and Anderson completed the rare four-point play after he nailed the free throw to put the Red Claws ahead 92-88.
Willie Reed’s free throw was academic as was an ensuing foul shot by Frank Gaines, who added 16 points for the Red Claws.
The strong finish enabled the Red Claws (4-1) to rebound after Saturday’s home loss to Idaho and continue their strong start.
“This was a hard-fought game – every game between two rivals is like that,” Maine Coach Mike Taylor said. “They’re a big, physical team with some great advantages on the wing against us.”
It was a typical game between the two New England rivals, a see-saw battle that saw the lead change 16 times.
“I told my teammates we needed to have a short memory and forget about Saturday’s game,” Anderson said. “We dug in on defense.”
Despite the Armor’s 0-5 record, the Red Claws weren’t about to take them lightly.
“That’s a good team we played and we had to play hard and execute,” Taylor said. “We have so much respect for them. We play them so many times and we both know anything can happen.”
That may be why the Red Claws were not about to get into a comfort zone after they opened the game with an impressive 12-4 run.
They led 24-19 after the first quarter but were hurt by moments of inconsistency during the second frame.
Suddenly the Red Claws were forcing shots. There were air balls, turnovers and inopportune fouls.
Despite that, they trailed only by 48-47 at intermission, which marked the only time this season the Armor led after 24 minutes.
The third quarter was hotly contested and everything came down to the final 12 minutes.
That’s when the Red Claws showed they were all business. They made key defensive stops, turning those into points and dominating the boards – finishing with 30 defensive rebounds.
“The difference between winning and losing was very little,” Taylor said. “I’m very proud of our guys. We didn’t play as well offensively against Idaho and for the guys to bounce back like this was tremendous.”
Maine refused to let fatigue became a factor.
“Our guys were tired, but we fought through it and that showed a lot about the character of the guys,” Taylor said. “We were really pleased with the way we defended. The guards really helped and the big men did their work.”
They had to come through collectively after center Romero Osby went down with a hamstring injury in the third quarter.
“We don’t know how serious it is,” Taylor said. “We had guys come off the bench and step up.”
Among those were Corey Allmond and Kam Taylor.
Springfield’s Justin Johnson led all scorers with 25 points.
“The chemistry on this team is very good and the guys support each other,” Taylor said. “When guys get in, they give everything they have.”
It was hardly a surprise that Wright was supposed to take the tie-breaker. He led the Red Claws with 21 points.
But Anderson’s heroics were lauded.
“Marcel did a fantastic job,” Taylor said. “He took what the defense gave him and made good decisions.”