Al-Shabaab’s 2nd game: The tale of our victory

The day after that first game, we sent out an email: who wants to try playing again, who wants to stay out?

After talking for a few hours among ourselves after the game the night before, we figured it was good to sleep on it and then ask everyone on the team how they felt about it. Some players weren’t even there for the game that night.

Rested, a few of the guys wanted to give it another shot. The rest of us, including me, decided to go with the team on it and try again, despite voting it down. I guess the opposing coach apologized to one of our players for the officiating. That helped smooth things over in my mind.

A few emails later, we were back on to play that evening.

We met early to go to one of the courts to practice and warm up a little before the game. The bus driver ended up needing gas when he picked us up, though, so that cut into our prep time.

Still, we got time to warm up and run through some strategy for attacking a 2-3 zone defense.

At the main court, we felt a little awkward getting out of the bus. Did everyone know the story from the night before? Would everyone boo us? Would it be a repeat of last night, or worse? How was this going to go down?

We’d said we weren’t coming back, that we wanted a refund. Coming back meant we were going back on our word.

“Can’t we tell them we were just kidding?” one guy joked. “Why so serious?”

Once we got out there, it didn’t feel so bad. Once the game just before ours ended, it didn’t feel so bad. Getting on the court, warming up, felt pretty good, actually.

We got the tip off, like last game, and set it up. It took us a little longer to get our first basket than it did in the first game, but we got a small lead fairly early. And the refs weren’t calling anything against us. If anything, in fact, the calls fell in our favor.

After the first five minutes, though, the game fell into a groove, good calls on both sides, fair at least, although still pretty physical on both sides.

All right, so this is basketball. We can do this.

And so we did.

We play man-to-man defense. The other teams play zone defense, the two that we’ve seen and supposedly all the rest, if they’re like the teams from last year. Man-t0-man is much better in this league. (The few times they played it on us late in the game, it stopped us better than anything else they’d tried.)

With our tough defense and a guy always getting back to stop their fast breaks, a favorite of theirs, we were able to keep them from scoring quickly. This gave us time to use the clock, pass around their zone, and wait for the pockets to open up.

Our offense wasn’t great, but we played tough. A few of the guys in particular knocked down some long shots to stretch our lead.

About halfway through, the guy I was guarding charged into me on his way to the basket. My feet were moving, so I got a blocking call against me. It was sort of dirty, but not necessarily a bad call. It just hurt. It took the air out of my lungs for a few seconds and then my ribs immediately felt bruised.

Other than that, though, I wasn’t hurt much at all. I got some cuts and scraps, but not bad.

A few of my teammates got tagged. My roommate in particular picked up his fifth foul, fouling out of the game, when his man charged into his face to shoot a three-pointer. He ended up with a bleeding cut between his eyebrows and left wondering how that works, how he got called for the foul.

Otherwise, the calls felt okay. We played hard and kept our lead. With two minutes left, we just needed to hold onto the ball and run out the clock.

After we started doing that, the other team caught on and started fouling us to stop the clock. All of them were intentional, of course, but some of them weren’t even directed at the ball, which should have meant we got to shoot free throws and get the ball back. That’s not how it worked out, but it wasn’t a big deal.

By that point, thankfully, our lead was enough to keep us out of their reach, even though they knocked down some great jumpers late in the game.

Final score, 70 to 53. We won, first time in like a year and half. I didn’t play last year because I wasn’t here, but a bunch of the other guys remember. One of those guys in particular is leaving in three weeks, so it was good for him to get a win with us.

Al-Shabaab walked out with a victory this time, a victory and what looks like a promising season ahead of us, glad we came back and played.