Citizens on Bong County were stunned and expressed fear of losing their domination in the Harold E. McGowan Basketball Tournament, when two of their three representations in this year’s tourney were eliminated by recently runner-up outfit, Ganta United Methodist High School, dubbed – the Lions.
Since the establishment of the Harold E. McGowan Basketball Tournament in the 1970s — schools from Bong County have won the championship 11 times, while Lofa County’s schools clinched the title five times and schools from Nimba Country have grabbed it twice and once by a school in Margibi County.
On Saturday, Gboveh High School, the 6-time winner, was trounced 22-38 points Ganta United (The Lions.) The host, William V.S. Tubman-Gray also suffered similar fate by The Lions, 26-19 points.
In both games, Ganta’s Lions controlled the floor and were determined to clinch this year’s tournament after trailing twice in the runner-up post since the re-launch and rebrand of the Upcountry Basketball Tournament in 2012, after 22 years of discontinuation owing to the civil war.
Last year, there wasn’t Harold E. McGowan Basketball Tourney owing to the outbreak of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)
The Lions’ point guard Diamond Wesley was incredible, having shot 23 points in the two games, followed by Ishmael Sumah with 11 points, as well as Lawrence Mahn and Lawrence Suah with 9 and 5 points respectively.
Even though, St. Martins kept the flame burning with wins to match-up with The Lions but current form put The Lions above the Icemen of St. Martins.
The Icemen were crowned champions in 2012 when they routed The Lions in the grand finals, after being defeated in the preliminary round. In the following year, 2013, the Icemen were out of contention.
Also on Saturday, the Icemen dumped the host – William V.S. Tubman-Gray 31-24 points as well as Gboveh High School, 26-20 points.
Icemen’s forward and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Eric Wongar shot 29 points in two games, followed by Nathaniel Gekplee, 11 points; Rugger Karpu, 4 points; Lloyd Banks 4 points and the tournament’s most blocker, George Tamba, who also netted 3 points.
“These men are the main reason for the Bongies not only to build trust but have to rally around the team,” Coach J. Dominic L. Fahnbulleh, Sr. said.
On Sunday, in the 2nd runner-up match, the host – William V.S. Tubman-Gray thrashed Gboveh High School, 18-14 points. The tournament’s Best Assist players Eric Goodridge, Jean Murray and Solomon Flomo were on target.
In the last derby, the Icemen attentively pinned The Lions 31-28 points in an intense two-quarter’s 10-minute’s stop-time game.
Coach Fahnbulleh’s Icemen took lead in the opening, with point guard Karpu Bugger making an untouched two shots. Players Eric Wongar and Nathaniel Gekplee upped the tally to nine points, but the Lions’ duo, Lawrence Mahn, Ishmael Sumah and Harry Sahn leveled the tally, but few seconds to the end of first quarter, blocker George Tamba increased the tally to 11-9 points.
In the second quarters, the score was a tie thrice – 16-16; 24-24 and 28-28, but marvelous coaching from experienced coach Fahnbulleh contributed to the Icemen’s victory.
“Prior to the third tie, the Lions were in the lead 28-23 points, which was about two minutes to stoppage time, but regrettably Coach Tamba didn’t make use of double-jeopardy passes to kill time to win, instead he went on the attack,” a basketball referee who begged for anonymity said. “He should also have introduced slow play, because there was no running-time — he defeated himself.”
He added: “Admirably, Coach Fahnbulleh reintroduced his blocker, George Tamba and brought in another additional point guard and another forward to help Eric Wongar – who were all attacking and were also defending one-on-one.”
Former Youth and Sports Minister S. Tornorlah Varpilah, during whose administration the tournament was re-launched and rebranded and named in honor of a US Peace Corps, Harold E. McGowan, said the winning of the title by a Bong County school proved the supremacy of the County in the 45-year-old tournament.
The former Minister, who also played in the tournament for Dolokelen Gboveh High School, which is now called Gboveh High School hailed the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the participating schools and urged the coaches to teach the students by the rules.
Deputy Youth Minister Henry B. Yonton, Jr. expressed his thanks and satisfaction to the schools and cautioned coaches to develop the students with the rules.
Yonton reminded the students that education is the key and they should study seriously. He extolled all the sponsors, though he didn’t name them, for their timely contributions.
He, however, frowned on schools which confirmed their participation but withdrew. In the opening program, the Country Director for the United States Peace Corps, Kevin W. Fleming thanked the Liberian government for honoring a US Peace Corp volunteer with the tournament.
He told the students that Mr. McGowan didn’t only have passion for basketball, but also for education, so they should take their education very gravely.
Meanwhile, some basketball pundits expressed thanks for the Harold E. McGowan Basketball Tournament, for tapping into their talents, but said the government should make use of their talents by ensuring that all county-based players are used in future tournaments.
Mr. Mark Kollie said, if only localized players are used during the county meet, they could be scouted by basketball clubs.
However, the basket pundits named the best players as follows: Eric Mongar (St. Martin Catholic High School); Diamond Wesley (Ganta United Methodist High School); Lawrence Mahn (Ganta United Methodist High School); Geroge Tamba (St. Martin Catholic High School) and Eric Goodridge (William V.S. Tubman-Gray High School).