Story by Chan Hua Zheng/Red Sports. Photos by Dylan Chua/Red Sports.
Jurong East Sports Hall, Tuesday, May 15, 2018 — After qualifying for the National A Division Basketball Championship semi-finals for the first time ever last Wednesday, National Junior College (NJC) continued their dream run with a stunning 53–42 victory over Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) in the semi-finals.
The victory was such a stunning one that even NJC’s teacher-in-charge, Mr Sham Das, initially commented: “I am still in shock.”
“Almost all our players are from the 6 year IP programme and are graduating after this year. Before the game the team reflected on their time together and were specifically told to ‘enjoy the last chapter of their NJC Journey’,” he later added on.
On the team’s performance, Mr Sham Das was full of praise: “One of our biggest challenges over the years had been the constant inability to be able to bring training intensity and performance to the same level as match intensity and performance. Our performance at the semi-finals was by far the best game we have had and personally I was very happy that all my players got to play.”
Huang Yifan (NJC #22) proved to be an offensive spark for NJC, dropping a game-high 19 points while running the offense as one of the primary ball handlers.
Travis Thong (HCI #6) led the way for HCI in the scoring column with 11 points, while Vernen Lim (HCI #35) chipped in 10 points.
The game started with HCI controlling the momentum of the match as their staunch defense disrupted NJC’s offense by forcing turnovers for defensive stops as well as points in transition.
By the end of the first quarter, HCI would find themselves sitting on a comfortable 18–7 lead over NJC.
NJC would shake off their slow start on the second quarter, where they would overwhelm HCI on defense, giving up no easy shots while hustling to cut off passing lanes.
After a Vernen Lim (HCI #35) trey that gave HCI a 21–9 lead with 9:06 left in the quarter, NJC would answer back with a huge 14–2 scoring blitz that was capped off by a driving finger roll lay-up by Ian Tay (NJC #10) to tie the game up at 23 apiece with 1:01 remaining and force HCI to call a timeout.
HCI would end off the quarter with a transition lay-up by Wei Yong Xi (HCI #10) with 23.1 seconds left to hold onto a slim 25–23 lead heading into the half-time break.
The third quarter would witness the tide of the match shift in NJC’s favor. Up 31–30 with 5:30 remaining, HCI would lose key big man Shin Dong Hun (HCI #18) after he picked up his fifth and final foul.
HCI would feel the after effects of Shin Dong Hun (HCI #18) fouling out, as their interior defense started giving up offensive rebounds and easy drives into the paint. NJC would then end the quarter with a 7–1 blitz to gain a 37–32 lead heading into the final quarter.
With a final berth at stake, HCI pushed the pace in the final quarter in a bid to score quick baskets and chip away at NJC’s lead. Their “run-and-gun” offense showed some signs of success as they were able to close the game to 36–39 with 8:11 left after Kenneth Koh (HCI #7) converted a close-range jumper.
With such a closely contested game hanging in the balance, any missed shots could turn out to be fatal. That was the case for HCI over the final five minutes of the quarter, as their shots just could not seem to fall.
NJC would seal the win with a 14–6 run over the final five minutes, sparking celebrations from the NJC players and supporters after a stunning 53–42 victory over HCI that would send them to their first ever final appearance in what was a dream season.
Scoring by Quarter
HCI vs NJC
1st Q: 18–7
2nd Q: 7–16 (25–23)
3rd Q: 7–14 (32–37)
4th Q: 10–16 (42–53)
Travis Thong (#6) – 11 points
Vernen Lim (#35) – 10 points
Huang Yifan (#22) – 19 points
Ondre Tann (#2), Lin Yuan Xun (#3), Chua Qi Wei (#4), Travis Thong (#6), Kenneth Koh (#7), Chong Ke-Ming (#8), Wei Yong Xi (#10), Guan Xiao (#12), Shin Dong Hun (#18), Yan Wei Dong (#21), Kuan Jian Rong (#27), Vernen Lim (#35)
Ethan Tay Fu Wen (#0), Nicholas Gao Lu Xin (#1), Tan Peng Yu (#7), Adler Chua Yu Cheng (#9), Ian Tay Wei Han (#10), Lu Guan Yu (#11), Aviral Agarwal (#17), Malcolm Lee Zhen Yuan (#18), Seow Wei Xian (#21), Huang Yi Fan (#22), Jonathan Gan Jin Heng (#72)
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