The Playaz are a fast, athletic crew who can put up points in bunches, as evidenced by their 85-75 championship game victory over the Juice All-Stars on Sunday afternoon at Don Bosco Tech High School.
With speedy lead guard and tournament MVP Antonio Jardine (20 points) pushing the attack, the Playaz come at opponents in waves. They hung 86 points on the Worldwide Renegades in a Saturday night quarterfinal round victory and scored 69 points in a close semifinal round win over Team Final.
Chris Smith, a 6-2 junior guard from St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., was as big a factor as Jardine with his scoring ability all weekend long. A streaky perimeter shooter, Smith (25 points) was on in the championship game, knocking down a number of three pointers in the first half as the Playaz opened up a 27-15 lead late in the first half.
Juice proved to be a strong second half team at the Spring Fling, so it came as little surprise that Tiny Morton's crew mounted a comeback that bridged the first and second halves.
Freshman prodigy Lance Stephenson scored the first nine points of the second half for Juice, and when Malcolm Grant connected on a three-pointer at the 12:39 mark, the Playaz lead had been whittled to 43-41.
Jardine, who scored 19 of his 20 points in the second half, became a one-man wrecking crew as the Playaz regained control of the contest. He scored seven points in a 15-6 surge, capped by his three-pointer at the 7:35 mark, as the Playaz aired out to a 58-47 lead.
He also found St. John Neumann-Goretti teammate Rick Jackson down low for an easy flush that resulted in a three-point play during the decisive run. So in sum, he had a hand in 10 of the 15 points that swung the game back in the Playaz favor.
The Playaz lead climbed as high as 16 points in the second half, and Juice could get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
It wasn't for a lack of effort. Stephenson was outstanding in the second half for Juice, knocking down six treys and scoring 20 of his game high 26 points over the game's final 16 minutes. Grant also canned a number of three-pointers in the second half and finished with 20 points in defeat.
Both Grant and Stephenson were named to the Spring Fling All-Tournament team, along with the Playaz's Smith and Jackson.
Brandon Walters, Juice's promising 6-9 junior center/power forward, also merited selection based on his quarterfinal round and semifinal round play, but he managed just five points in the championship game loss and was left off the all-tournament squad. Juice forward Kevin Menner was also quiet in the title game, tallying six points in defeat.
Morton was disappointed with his frontcourt production against the Playaz and thought it was a factor in the game's outcome.
"We couldn't get any garbage baskets," he said. "We needed someone to get some easy ones down there for us, and it just never happened."
Indeed, Juice was largely relegated to a jumpshooting team in the championship game. In the first half, they hit very few. They hit quite a few in the second half, but couldn't get the necessary defensive stops down the stretch to climb back into the contest.