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Xplosion marks first-year success

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Things are looking up for the Pittsburgh Xplosion.

The team ended its first regular season with a come-from-behind victory over Maryland and will have a bye in the first round of the American Basketball Association playoffs. The Xplosion (18-11) defeated Maryland, 111-108, on Tuesday at Mellon Arena.

"This win gives us momentum going into the playoffs," Xplosion coach Tom Thacker said. "We are a team to be reckoned with. This first year has been a slow process. It will take Pittsburgh some getting used to a new franchise. But we just need more exposure."

That is slowing coming.

The second-largest crowd of the season --- 1,700 - was on hand to watch last night for a team which announced in February it would be back for another season. The largest crowd was1,900 on Feb. 14. That exceeds those of 100 or less that first came.

"Basketball is on the rise in Pittsburgh," said Xplosion 6-foot-6 forward Janerio Spurlock, who scored 21 points last night over the fifth-rated team in the league. "We just need to work harder to be seen."

The Xplosion, rated sixth in the league's power rankings, will host a playoff game the week of March 13 at Mellon Arena or Petersen Events Center.

The ABA playoffs include 24 teams, with the top eight receiving byes. The final eight will compete for the championship at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N. Y., on March 22, 25 and 26.

After falling behind, 65-50, at halftime, the Xplosion cut the deficit to five, 67-62, with 8:40 left in the third period and tied the score at 88-88 on a Spurlock jumper.

Devaughn Halsel put the Xplosion ahead with a three-point play. He led all scorers with 23 points. Maryland (20-9) got a basket by Randy Gill but Spurlock added a 3-pointer.

The Xplosion led, 109-106, with 20.7 seconds left, but Gill got fouled on a 3-point attempt with 3.5 seconds to go. He made two of three.

Halsel was fouled with 2.2 seconds left and made both.

Xplosion majority owner Freddie Lewis said the team was rusty in the first half, but overall he is pleased with how the inaugural season is going.

"The playoffs are a new season," Lewis said. "Every game counts. But I feel pretty good about this team."

One thing that will be different come playoffs is that Gilliam will play road games. This year's All-Star MVP didn't play regular-season road games under his contract.

"Armon is a force inside, which we will need," Spurlock said. "He makes this team click on all cylinders. He makes us tough to beat, and will be key for us going far in the postseason."

Lewis said he is looking forward to the postseason and coming back for a second season. He added the fans have told him they want the Xplosion to return.

"We will have more time to get everything together for next season with players and other things," Lewis said. "The first year is always a building season. We still plan to give fans up tempo basketball and hope they continue to enjoy it."

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