Momentum was a hard thing to maintain, as the lead seesawed in the Sugar Ray Leonard League championship game between Mr. Chicken 'N Ribs and Schlitz Bulls last night before a standing room only crowd at Palmer Park Community Center.
Even after it appeared Schlitz was going to coast to victory after it had built a five-point lead with 35 seconds left, there was still some drama left. But Mike Collier sank four consecutive free throws to enable the Bulls to hold on for an 82-77 win.
"We worked too hard not to win the championship," said Collier. "Everybody played hard on both ends of the court and they told me to take my time and make my free throws."
Al Welch's steal and flying one-handed dunk to open the fourth period seemed as if it would give Mr. Chicken 'N Ribs the momentum, as it moved out to a 59-53 lead, but Eric Love (36 points, 15 rebounds) scored six points in a 10-5 spurt that put the Bulls ahead, 63-62.
The lead changed seven times in the next four minutes, but in the final two minutes the Bulls showed greater composure. After Welch (16 points) had converted a pair of free throws to give Mr. Chicken 'N Ribs a 72-71 lead, Schlitz began its game-ending surge.
Bruce Mountain, who finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, slipped away from his man and popped a 12-footer. Love sank two free throws from the line and later glided down the lane to score off a finger roll with defenders draped all over him, as Schlitz pushed its lead to 77-72 with 59 seconds left.
Then after each team hit free throws, the Bulls sensed victory within their grasp. Rod Dozier (20 points, seven rebounds) then stripped Love of the ball, scored and was fouled. He made the free throw to narrow it to 78-76, but his team could not pull closer in the final frenetic moments.
"We're a running team, but we slowed down, started playing their game and they had the momentum," said Love. "But in the final five minutes we started to run again."