Basketball fans witnessed what might have been one of the most exciting finishes in Arctic Games history on Friday night during the boys’ basketball final between Yukon and Nunavut.
At the end of regulation time in the Weledeh School gym, the teams were even at 71-71.
Yukon had been playing catch-up with the surprisingly tough Nunavut squad for most of the game
“We like to make it hard on ourselves,” said an exasperated Jamie Shaw, Yukon coach.
“We missed a lot of freethrows and layups I thought we should have, normally, but the jitters probably got to us.”
In the first overtime period, it seemed like nobody could buy a basket, rebounds and players flying madly in all directions.
“My head was spinning out there, we were down, we were up, it was all over the place, it was crazy,” said Yukon guard Myles Hougen, who took the MVP honours after the game.
“It wasn’t bouncing our way.”
As his team flailed madly while the clock ticked down, Shaw could only hope for a miracle.
With two minutes left in the first overtime, Yukon was down by six points and nothing was clicking.
After a time-out huddle, the team came out bombing. Tony Nguyen and Sam Johnson sunk a three-pointer each before the clock ran out again, 77-77.
That’s not what was supposed to happen, said coach Shaw.
“I told them, run our sets, and make it easy on yourselves… but they’re out there shooting threes,” he groaned. “But that was incredible.”
The crowd was in a constant roar by this point as the game turned into a freewheeling wide-open affair complete with Hail-Mary passes and plenty of steals.
“After the first overtime we had to regroup, settle down and focus, and that’s what we did,” said Hougen, who shot for six points in the second overtime. “We just kept putting the shots up, and they finally started to fall.”
Yukon outscored the tenacious Nunavut team in the second overtime 18-10, as Nunavut ran into foul trouble.
With a solid lead, Yukon ran out the clock and claimed the gold, defending its position as Arctic Games champions.
“That was definitely the most amazing game for me, a great way to end the tournament, and end as a team,” said Nguyen, the only veteran player on the team. “Being first feels good.”
Shaw said the strength of the Nunavut team came as a surprise.
“I knew Peter Ohokannoak, who played for us two summers in Whitehorse, he’s an outstanding player, and some of the other players from previous Arctic Games — but I had no idea, as a group, they would be so tough; — they won’t quit at all.”
Nguyen said his team was confident about winning gold coming into the Games.
“Oh yeah, right from the start,” he said. “But other teams weren’t. They were underestimating us — but we really came up. It was great!”