‘Swiss Army knife’ Stephens seals title
The Devonshire Chargers secured the One Communications Bermuda Basketball Summer League title on Wednesday night, by overcoming a 12-point deficit to beat Southampton Thundercats 69-59.
Kevin Stephens scored 25 points and had ten rebounds and three steals, with Te'Jour Riley adding 11 points for the champions, who overcame a strong, gutsy performance from the Thundercats, who battled hard despite suiting up only six players.
The key stretch came just before half-time. Southampton had a 32-20 lead, before a 24-2 run from Devonshire, spanning the half-time interval, swung the match squarely in their favour.
Trailing 34-26, Ian Lim, then Stephens both hit three-pointers to close the gap to 34-32 at half-time. Southampton would not score again until just under four minutes remaining of the third quarter, by which time Chargers had built up a 44-34 advantage.
“Our staple all year has been defence,” Riley said. “The difference between the first half and the second half was that we started playing better defence, and were finishing plays. We're a long, athletic team, so any time we can stop the man in front of us, the game becomes easy.”
Stephens agreed with Riley's assessment of their efforts without the ball.
“Our main focus this year has been to stay focused and lock down on defence,” the point guard said. “If anything, we've been known for our defence and keeping teams in the 60s, sometimes the 50s.
“We played a great team tonight that's well coached, that's young and we just got the better end of it tonight. All praise to my team-mates. We played well and just kept it together.
“Hat's off to the Thundercats. When you're playing with six, it's a very tough thing to do. What they do have is the youth and athleticism: Rye Ahronson, Kobe Reid, Mykal Glasgow — those are some great players with a lot of potential, They're getting opportunities that some of us didn't have back in the day and I just hope the best for them, I really do. They play great, they're well coached. Jason Lowe came up big.
“The one thing about the Thundercats — they're going to fight till the end. The effort they put out here, especially with six players, was nothing less than phenomenal.”
Stephens added that their big run was a huge confidence boost going into the break.
“There was a point in time where we were down, I think 30-20, the crowd was on their side and we just needed to stay focused,” he said. “That's just been the main thing: be focused. You can't dwell on your past. So after a missed play, a missed layup, our main thing is to just make up for it on defence and keep fighting all the way to the end — and that's what we did.
“Ian hit a three and we were down by five I believe, I had the ball in my hands and was looking at the clock. I had a decision to make. There was no time left on the shot clock, he gave me room, I took the shot and made it. You've got to take shots to make shots.
“That momentum swing was definitely a confidence boost for us. We went to the half strong and confident. And the second half we just turned it up a little bit more and we came out with a victory.”
Riley's dunk early in the fourth-quarter, that gave Chargers a 53-45 lead, was another boost.
“When he's on the court, don't leave him open,” Stephens said of his team-mate, “This is a great, athletic player right here! He can jump out the gym, so to see him dunk, it's next to nothing to me. He can do it with his eyes closed.
“Once again, that's momentum. No one likes to see the ball get dunked on them. It's almost like a momentum drop. Everyone gets in it — the crowd gets in it. We kept a high energy and sealed the victory. It's been a great season.”
Riley had plenty of kind words for “Swiss Army knife” Stephens too.
“Kev is the motor of this team,” he said. “What people don't notice is that Kev is always on. He doesn't need to see a shot go down to know he can make every shot.
“What makes it easy for guys like me is that I know I don't have to score to ball. I can come down, play defence, get the ball and give it to him.
“He can score in so many different ways. He can score full-court, making long layups. He can get the ball up to guys, and dump it down to them. He can make a long-range shot and get other guys involved.
“He's a Swiss Army knife — anything I need him to do, he's going to do for me. Tonight I needed him to score, so he scored for me.”
Indeed, it was a strong all-round performance that earned Stephens Most Valuable Player honours.
“I actually came away with ten rebounds, so my main thing was to just help on defence and when that ball goes up, to just crash,” he said. “I may not be the tallest person in the world, but I like to use my strength and my mental part of the game.
“This is the first season with Te'Jour playing with us and he just opens the game up in so many ways because a lot of people bring focus my way and then he's just open. I tell him all the time, the only person who can stop him driving to the goal is him and that's just if he doesn't want to do it.
“All praise to him and my team-mates, Ian Lim hit some big shots, Leo [Leonardo Ballanilla] played tough down low. There were a few games we missed this season and we took a few Ls, which bumped us down to second place, but with our full squad, we've come away with a victory every time. It says a lot about this team and the chemistry we have.”