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Firebirds Defeat Stingers 106-98 in First Game of the Season

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

In their first home game of the 2023 TBL season, the Raleigh Firebirds defeated the Fayetteville Stingers, 106-98. The Stingers, led by head coach Robert Brickey, are beginning their journey through their first season in The Basketball League and the Southeastern Division. With only a few weeks of practice and the team existing for a few short months, the Stingers played very well.

A familiar face appeared on the Stingers' roster; Will McNeil, the Firebirds' backup point guard from the 2022 season. It was good to see him again, and the players who remained on the roster from last year welcomed him with open arms. However, once the game started, the competition was on.

Raleigh controlled the ball from the tip, and Darius Leonard scored the first three points of the season. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse for Leonard after that bucket, as his play wasn't up to his usual standard. He was subbed out two minutes into the game, and the fans were introduced to Jerome Cunningham, the Firebirds' 6'8" draft pick out of Nichols College. You could tell Cunningham wasn't used to the level of TBL play, but he flashed lots of potential and high competency on the defensive end.

While the Firebirds were solid on defense, they quickly started firing away on all cylinders from three. Ahmad Abdullah, a new addition to the roster from North Carolina A&T, got extremely hot from three, nailing six in the first half! Six threes! The fans generated more and more energy after every three made, and the Firebirds jumped out to an early lead. By the end of the first quarter, the Firebirds led 29-20.

With music blaring through loudspeakers during every pause in gameplay, the Firebirds season took off at Word of God Christian Academy. The seating capacity far exceeded John Chavis Memorial Park; while Chavis could only hold about 200 or so fans, Word of God's bleachers could seat over 500. However, this didn't stop nearly 900 fans from packing in the gym to start the game, leaving only standing room for those who got there late.

The stands at Word of God extend all the way down to the court, creating a feeling as though the fans were much more involved and engaged in the game. Unfortunately, this feeling wasn't always for the better. During the first half, trying to save a loose ball, Daequon Antoine jumped into the first row of the crowd...and landed on a baby.

"Someone pushed me on that little infant," said Antoine after the game. "It was bad, {he} was crying, but I apologized."

Antoine began to dominate in the second quarter, hitting a wide variety of threes, layups, and exquisite floaters that always managed to just eclipse the defense's outstretched hands. There were also several second-chance efforts by Antoine and the rest of the team, battling for the ball on every possession. "Getting in the paint a little bit was definitely on my mind, trying to get in there," said Antoine.

Another player who wowed during the second quarter was Shaq Dance, another returner. Dance didn't play with the team much during 2022 but had in previous seasons, and his knowledge of the game showed. Dance dropped in three threes and seemed to be getting into the paint at will. He seemed ready to go 20 minutes before the game started in warm-up lines when he threw down a BETWEEN THE LEGS dunk ever so casually. During the second quarter, he also made this incredible layup:

During the second quarter, we also got to witness the first of Conner Kelley, another new addition to the Firebirds. Kelley's a great shooter, and even though he was a little bit off this game, he still finished with 12 points and some great players where he was able to break down the defense and get easy buckets in the paint.

Towards the middle of the second quarter, the game started to become more back and forth, until the Firebirds once again launched a barrage of threes and buried the Stingers. At halftime, the Firebirds were up eight, 61-53.

Throughout the third quarter, the game continued to swing back and forth between both teams, but the Firebirds' lead stayed anywhere from between 4-10 points. However, once both teams entered the fourth quarter, the atmosphere completely changed. Fayetteville went on a 12-3 run to take their first lead of the game, and the Firebirds were at a loss for energy. The Stingers' big man, Jose Roman-Angueira, threw down the first dunk of the game, providing a huge momentum boost. In addition, the Firebirds' bigs had trouble slowing him down, as Angueira finished his first TBL game with 36 points and 14 rebounds. "{We were} just trying to get back to how we play basketball," said Angueira.

After the 12-3 run, it was a one-point game, and both teams alternated possessions. Abdullah nailed a clutch three for the Firebirds, followed by another from Antoine to extend the lead further. The score was 100-93 in favor of the Firebirds when Titus Gary III of the Stingers hit a three to make it a four-point game. Finally, Desmond Jackson threw down a dunk, the Firebirds' first of the season and just what the crowd had been waiting for.

On the other end, the Stingers couldn't deliver, and as a result, had to intentionally foul. Dance nailed two clutch free throws to make the score 104-98, and on the other end, the Stingers missed again. This time they fouled Antoine, who nailed his two free throws to officially put the game out of reach. When the dust had settled and all the blows had been thrown, the Firebirds rose from the ashes, reborn and victorious.

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