Shawnee Kansas City Pump N Run looked out of sorts in the early going of its championship game against the Illinois Warriors in the Price Chopper Invitational on Tuesday at Okun Fieldhouse.
Missed shots, defensive lapses and unforced turnovers had Pump N Run heading toward a runner-up finish.
However, with the insertion of Kansas University men's basketball prospect Marcus Denmon for the final 14 minutes of the game, Pump N Run went on to defeat the Warriors, 69-62, and claim the crown.
"He's the guy that gets our momentum going early in the games, and when he's not there, guys look at that a little bit," Pump N Run coach L.J. Goolsby said of Denmon. "He's like the missing piece of the puzzle. So when he's there, it kind of completes it all, and we're able to move on."
So why wasn't Denmon in the line-up earlier?
He showed up late because of "transportation problems."
"I could have easily played him earlier in the first half, but he was a little late for the game so he has to learn a lesson," Goolsby said. "But when it came time for him to step up, he did what he's supposed to do and was a big part of our win today."
Step up he did, scoring all 10 of his points over the final nine minutes and going 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the closing 30 seconds.
"Our team always plays well together," Denmon said. "Everybody can score, anybody at any given time can get points - I just happened to be one to hit a few shots when they needed me to."
Denmon's presence also helped KU recruit Travis Releford, who Goolsby said wasn't being aggressive enough in the opening half, get his game going. Releford scored seven of his 10 points in the second half.
"The first half was kind of tough not having him (Denmon) in the starting line-up," Releford said. "But when he came out in the second half, we started putting it all together, and we got up as a team."
Goolsby also got some early help from Denver Holmes, who stepped in for the gun-shy Releford and began knocking down three-pointers.
"He's been a consistent shooter for us and a guy that can knock down shots," Goolsby said of Holmes, who finished with 14 points. "We wanted him to open that zone up, and he did a little bit, and that kind of got us going."
The title makes Pump N Run 2-for-2 in local tournaments. It won the Jayhawk Invitational on May 6 in Lawrence.
"That's what we always talk about, and that's expected," Goolsbye said about winning tournaments close to home. "When you're looking at younger kids who are looking at our program, they want to play for winners and programs that are moving kids on to colleges."
Ref takes on Releford: An interesting chain of events following a foul late in the game made Pump N Run's Travis Releford a recipient of a surprising shove - from a ref.
After the whistle was blown on one of Releford's teammates, the Kansas recruit made incidental contact with an Illinois Warriors player that the ref apparently didn't feel was incidental.
"That was new to me," Releford said. "A ref pushing a player? The guy came off the rim, and I just caught him because he was out of control. The ref thought I pushed him so he came up and yelled all in my face and pushed at me. I was like, 'Wow.' That was new. I've never seen anything like that."
Ex-Jayhawk a Pump N Run fan: Former KU basketball player Nick Bradford showed up at the Price Chopper to root for Pump N Run during its semifinal and championship games.
Bradford's ties with the Pump N Run team include a road trip last summer for the Las Vegas tournament.
The time with the Pump N Run players gave them plenty of opportunities to talk with the former KU player.
"We just talked about life in general, college, school and girls," Bradford said. "I felt like I was in AAU again last summer. It was fun."
In a couple of weeks, Bradford will return to play his third year of basketball in France and his fifth in Europe.
Bradford said has no desire to leave Europe for the NBA.
"I'm making money, so everything is good with me," said Bradford, who will play in Reims, France. "I'm not worried about the NBA or any of that. I'm just making my money."