Class 5 was still the strong team from last year after all. Although they were caught off guard by Jiang Cheng and Gu Fei's sudden appearance on the court, after a few laps they slowly adjusted and developed targeted defenses against the two of them.
Unlike Class 8 which relied solely on the cooperation of two main players, Class 5 didn't have any particularly outstanding members, but their skills were quite even, and even their substitutes were stronger than Wang Xu's crew.
Sometimes Jiang Cheng felt it was quite amazing - in any school, any grade, this kind of situation would happen where the good players were concentrated in one or two classes.
He and Gu Fei, in the few minutes when the other side was still in shock, quickly chased the score to just one point behind. During this time Class 5 only scored a 2-pointer. After Jiang Cheng made a three-pointer, Gu Fei scored consecutive layups, and the spectators on the sidelines were practically at the peak of excitement.
They probably weren't even this excited watching Class 5 play Class 2. After all, seeing weaklings like Class 8 suddenly rise was so rare that Class 5 was held scoreless for several minutes. Most importantly, this was an elimination match - the losing team would be immediately eliminated to join the spectators.
Losing the first elimination match didn't make much of an impression, but when a team that could make the finals lost, that was when it got really exciting for the crowds who just wanted drama.
"We can win!" Wang Xu said excitedly, gulping down water during the timeout Class 5 called. "Damn, we can win! We definitely can......"
"Stop wasting time blabbing," Jiang Cheng didn't bother leaving any face for the team captain, directly interrupting him. "Guo Xu, rest, sub in whoever's name."
"Who?" Wang Xu asked.
"Him," Jiang Cheng pointed at one of their substitute players. This kid didn't have great skills, but he was oddly fast. "Don't do anything else, just stick to that...that kid, the short one on their team."
"He's called Zhang Yuan," Wang Xu said. "That shorty is called Tang Xiwei."
"Yeah, Zhang Yuan just tail Tang Xi," Jiang Cheng said. "You're fast, so just follow him. You can foul, if you can't block him then shove him, but don't shove too obviously. Don't touch him if he has the ball."
"Got it," Zhang Yuan nodded. "He's called Tang Xiwei not just Tang Xi."
"Got it," Jiang Cheng acknowledged. "If Tang Xi can't get the ball, that'll be really advantageous for us. Half of their alley-oop passes were through him."
"What about us?" Wang Xu asked.
"That Li Ya Tower has committed two fouls already," Jiang Cheng completely ignored him and looked at Gu Fei instead. "Let's get him a couple more."
"Mm," Gu Fei drank some water. "Li Ya...dong."
"What about me?" Wang Xu asked again, even more directly this time.
"Captain," Jiang Cheng pulled on his wrist guard. "If anyone bothers me when I have the ball, come over and take care of him..."
"Sure! No problem!" Wang Xu thumped his chest.
"Also, we're too slow getting back on defense," Jiang Cheng said. "We practiced this during training, right? When they're on offense we need to get back under the basket immediately, two in the key, the rest at the three point line to keep them from coming in."
"Got it, liven up! We need to use everything from training now," Wang Xu said, slapping each person on the shoulder. He was very careful to avoid Jiang Cheng, and finally slapped Gu Fei on the shoulder too. "Da Fei, liven up!"
"Mm," Gu Fei glanced at him.
"Water?" Someone next to Jiang Cheng asked.
He turned his head to see Yi Jing holding a bottle of water. She looked at Gu Fei first - he was drinking water. Then she turned to offer it to Jiang Cheng.
"Thanks," Jiang Cheng took the bottle from her and twisted it open to drink.
"You guys are playing so great," Yi Jing said softly. "Our class has never been this excited before."
Jiang Cheng just smiled without answering.
They were playing quite well indeed. The cooperation between him and Gu Fei aggressively showing off was really rousing. But...it was also easy to draw hatred.
He turned to glance at Class 5. Several of them were staring at them, eyes full of fire.
When Li Ya Tower's gaze met his, he suddenly flipped up both middle fingers, pointing them in Jiang Cheng's direction.
After flipping him off, he didn't retract his gaze and continued staring at him.
Jiang Cheng had little reaction. He rarely got angry on the court. Playing with emotions was a huge taboo.
But riling up the opponent a bit was still ok. After holding Li Ya Tower's gaze for a while, he blew a kiss through the air, even miming a kiss on his hand before blowing it over.
"Fuck your mom!" Li Yadong instantly raged, cursing.
Jiang Cheng just laughed and ignored him.
"I've realised you're really naughty," Gu Fei said softly behind him as they returned to the court.
"Remember to get him to foul," Jiang Cheng said. "If he plays too freely we won't do well in the second half."
"Sir yes sir," Gu Fei said.
There were still less than 7 minutes left in the first half, and Class 5 had the ball. They had to widen the score gap in this bit of time, or else Class 5 would adjust in the second half and have an easier time catching up after.
Jiang Cheng watched the person preparing to throw in the ball, paying attention to observe everyone's positions on the court.
Zhang Yuan wasn't bad, what was his name, Tang Xi...Tang Xi something was it? His movement speed was very fast. When someone was tailing him he could easily shake them off and get the ball, but now Zhang Yuan was sticking to him like a koala, and he couldn't shake him off after zigzagging several times.
Class 5 also had their own plays. They always inbounded to Tang Xi and let him run the offense, but now he couldn't get the ball, and the rest of Class 8 was glued to Class 5's players. The inbounder was at a loss holding the ball, not knowing what to do.
Right before the 5 second violation, the person behind Jiang Cheng finally circled around and rushed forward calling for the ball. The inbounder hurriedly threw the ball out, but because of the distance it didn't make it halfway before Jiang Cheng rushed forward to intercept it and got the ball.
"Fuck!" Tang Xi yelled. "You blind?!"
As soon as Jiang Cheng got the ball, Gu Fei had already run towards the basket. Jiang Cheng didn't even dribble before whipping the ball hard to Lu Xiaobin outside the three point line.
They had practiced this play during training. With height advantage, Lu Xiaobin caught the ball overhead before jumping up to pass it to Gu Fei in a shooting motion.
Gu Fei caught the ball, but Class 5 still got back on defense lightning fast. Tower managed to cut Gu Fei off after just a few steps with the ball.
Jiang Cheng prepared to move in to receive the pass, but Wang Xu had already rushed into the key and was momentarily undefended, ready to catch Gu Fei's pass any time.
This series of reactions, this series of teamwork, made Jiang Cheng feel extremely gratified. He suddenly felt even if Wang Xu came to clap his shoulder now he wouldn't feel averse.
But then Wang Xu yelled, "Da Fei, pass the ball! Pass the ball!"
In that instant Jiang Cheng felt the urge to go slap him. After he shouted that, the passing routes were completely sealed off.
Gu Fei's layups were very accurate, but in this stuck position with Tower it was hard for him to shoot. Not getting the ball stolen by Tower was already good.
Jiang Cheng felt there was no time for a shot, and shooting now would also be hard to make it in. With Li Yadong there, rebounding would be difficult too. Gu Fei should pass or back out now.
But right at this moment, Gu Fei suddenly made a motion as if leaping up for a shot.
Li Yadong jumped along with him, a split second faster than Gu Fei. After Li Yadong jumped up Gu Fei leapt, and in that tiny time difference Li Yadong already had his arms pressed over him. Gu Fei forcibly shot the ball out from between Li Yadong's arms.
The ball flew almost straight up at high speed, spinning as it swished into the hoop.
Screams instantly erupted around them.
At the same time as the ball went in, the referee's whistle sounded, "No. 5, foul with contact!"
Jiang Cheng felt a series of shocks.
He made that shot at that angle!?
That guy's first shooting motion was a fake!
That Li Ya Tower committed an offensive foul!
Scoring while drawing a foul and bonus free throw all at once, Jiang Cheng almost wanted to scream along with the spectators.
Gu Fei slowly moved back to the free throw line and held up three fingers at Tower, "Three times now."
"Fuck!" Li Yadong clenched his teeth, squeezing out a word as his face flushed red.
Whether or not Gu Fei could make this free throw basically wasn't in question, but he still didn't know if he was messing with them or trying to rile Li Yadong up. He deliberately created some suspense.
After raising the ball to shoot, he turned to look at Li Yadong before releasing it.
The ball went in.
The whole court screamed. The girls' screams almost drowned out the clapping and cheers from the guys.
Jiang Cheng looked at Gu Fei. Although Gu Fei's move was super cool, he was also being pretentious to the extreme. Jiang Cheng almost wanted to speak up for little Tower now.
"How shameless can you get," Jiang Cheng said as they got back on defense.
"Learned it from you. He can't take provocation. By now he's about to go mad," Gu Fei said. "See, he'll foul out before the second half."
Gu Fei's judgment wasn't wrong. This Li Yadong had a fiery temper and lots of brute force. He had already committed two fouls when Wang Xu and the others were being suppressed. Now in this emotional state, getting him to foul again was no problem at all.
If he was Class 5's captain, he would have subbed Li Yadong out by now. But Class 5 still clearly relied on his scoring under the basket, so they didn't choose to sub him out.
Right before the end of the first half, Gu Fei had the ball and was cut off by Li Yadong as soon as he crossed half court. Gu Fei didn't even try to fake him out. As soon as Li Yadong's arm swept over, Gu Fei just shifted his body slightly, and Li Yadong couldn't stop slapping Gu Fei's arm.
"No. 5, foul with contact!" the referee blew the whistle.
"Time to graduate!" someone in the crowd yelled, and quite a few people started jeering after.
Jiang Cheng could tell it was Zhou Jing's voice. He looked over and saw Zhou Jing hiding behind Old Xu.
At the end of the first half, Li Yadong had four fouls. No matter how strong he was, he wouldn't play at the start of the second half - he had to be saved for critical moments.
But now Class 5 was 9 points behind them. Without Li Yadong on the court, hopes of catching up would also become slim...
What a dilemma.
Jiang Cheng drank some water.
"As long we keep playing like this in the second half, steady and giving it our all, we can win!" Wang Xu said. "Think about it, this isn't just our first time winning a game, we're about to eliminate Class 5! Eliminate them! Eliminate Class 5! The day we trample Class 2 is not far either!"
Everyone nodded excitedly.
"Any tactical adjustments needed?" Wang Xu asked Jiang Cheng.
"Guo Xu on, Zhang Yuan rest," Jiang Cheng said. "Li Yadong probably won't play at first later. Even if he does, he won't be able to go all out. I guess they'll pass to Tang Xi...wei and let him bring it up himself first. I'll take him, the rest is the same as before."
"Good!" Wang Xu nodded.
Li Yadong didn't play at the start of the second half. He was replaced by someone around the same height but much thinner. This person didn't jump as high as Li Yadong, and Gu Fei could shoot right over him.
Everyone on Class 8 was like they were on steroids, no, like phoenix blood. The court and sidelines were a boiling mess.
The spectators also seemed drugged. They probably never imagined they'd see such an unexpected game on the first day of the tournament, and were screaming their heads off not knowing who to cheer for either. Screams when on offense, shrieks when scoring, sharing in each other's joy and success...
Jiang Cheng wasn't someone who got excited easily, especially during games. As a guard he needed to stay calm and observant. Even when showing off it was only because of skill, not passion.
But now the sidelines were erupting like volcanoes, and for a team like theirs to play to this level, even he couldn't stay calm.
"Final quarter, final quarter," Old Lu had somehow gotten the mic again without the refs stopping him. He yelled with as much power as lecturing in class, "Steady! Don't panic! Steady offense!"
There were 10 minutes left. Even counting overtime it wasn't much time. Class 8 was going all out, and Class 5 was the same. So the score didn't widen to the 15 point gap Jiang Cheng hoped for. It was now 13 points.
Class 5 subbed Li Yadong back in. Jiang Cheng got the ball - if they could get Gu Fei to score here, 15 points would crush Class 5 mentally.
Guo Xu was ahead to his right. When Tang Xi came to block him, he quickly passed to Guo Xu.
Guo Xu was also blessed at the moment. As soon as he got the ball he didn't even dribble, passing it back overhead to Jiang Cheng who had circled around Tang Xi while he was looking away.
"Great pass!" Wang Xu yelled.
Jiang Cheng got the ball and continued forward, but Tang Xi was quick to cut him off again.
At this moment Jiang Cheng kind of hoped Tang Xi was on Class 8. Speed and reaction like this...He glanced left and as expected, Tang Xi immediately leaned slightly that way. Getting too excited made you overreact like this.
Psych! That was a fake!
Jiang Cheng charged past on the right carrying the ball. He saw Gu Fei already inside the three point line...and also Li Yadong coming from the right to intercept.
Son of a bitch!
Jiang Cheng stomped down on Li Yadong's foot with his left and couldn't get his right foot across, instantly losing his balance and falling left.
But before falling he gritted his teeth and whipped the ball towards Gu Fei.
Then he heavily crashed onto the floor, left elbow scraping as he slid over a meter away.
Screams erupted around them again, not sure if they were yelling about Gu Fei's nice shot or him falling hard and not getting up for several seconds.
"Jiang Cheng!" Wang Xu panicked and rushed over.
"Idiot," Jiang Cheng pushed him away. "Get back on defense!"
Class 5 inbounded very quickly. Tang Xi was already dribbling past them.
"No foul called!" Gu Fei yelled. "Wang Xu, get back!"
"Fuck!" Wang Xu jumped up and ran back.
Jiang Cheng got to his feet. Gu Fei glanced back at him and he shook his head. His foot was fine, he had protective gear on. Just the previous rib injury jarred when he fell.
Everyone was fired up about this ball. Jiang Cheng had just crossed half court and Li Yadong's shot on the other end was perfectly swatted down by Gu Fei already, with the ball going to Lu Xiaobin.
"Jiang Cheng!" Lu Xiaobin yelled at the top of his lungs, passing the ball to Jiang Cheng.
Jiang Cheng didn't know if Class 5 thought those 2 points were certain, but when he got the ball the closest person to him, Tang Xi, was still at the three point line on their end.
Jiang Cheng got the ball, turned, and took a few steps before stopping at the three point line.
As he shot, he looked back at the Class 5 players scrambling to get to him now. Then he calmly released the ball.
The ball drew a long arc in the air. Jiang Cheng held up three fingers, then dropped them as the ball swished through the hoop.
Among the cheers from the crowd he heard Old Xu's cracked yell of "Great shot!" He glanced towards Old Xu. His excited face stood out most in the sea of excitement, even redder than those playing.
The score widened to a 16 point difference. With not much time left in the final quarter, even without him and Gu Fei, it was unlikely they could make up the gap.
"Slow it down," Gu Fei glanced at the game clock.
No need to rush scoring now. Play steady, run down the clock before shots.
Class 5 had lost morale. Though still filled with rage, they had no chance to erupt.
Gu Fei and Jiang Cheng dribbled the ball steadily towards the basket. Class 5 scored 4 points during this time, but Gu Fei gave up 2 points and passed the ball to Jiang Cheng twice for 3-point shots. Jiang Cheng could feel the roar of the crowd every time he shot a 3-pointer.
He had never felt so cocky even when playing for the school team before.
Finally, amidst the extremely excited atmosphere, the final buzzer sounded.
Gu Fei, still holding the ball several steps behind the 3-point line, forcefully threw it toward the basket.
"Haven't finished riding the wave, huh!" Jiang Cheng looked at the ball that bounced off the backboard and went in.
"Ah--" Wang Xu's voice was especially loud amidst the cheers.
Jiang Cheng looked back and saw him rushing over with open arms. Before he could react, Wang Xu had already hugged Gu Fei and planted a big kiss on his face.
"Get lost!" Gu Fei pushed him away and rubbed at his face several times.
"Don't touch me!" As soon as Jiang Cheng saw Wang Xu turning towards him, he immediately yelled and pointed at him.
"Ah--" Wang Xu recklessly pounced on him, hugging and kissing him.
"Screw you!" Jiang Cheng lashed out like he had been whipped, flailing his arms and legs. He flung Wang Xu to the side.
Wang Xu didn't mind at all. In his ecstasy, he hugged and kissed every team member one by one.
The whole class went crazy, swarming onto the court. They hugged each other in groups while yelling. This kind of feeling could only be experienced by a super weak class that had never won any school matches before.
"Hey," Gu Fei walked up to him and opened his arms, "haven't had such a satisfying game in a long time."
Jiang Cheng looked at him and hesitated for a moment before going over to hug him back: "Me too."
"Is your foot okay?" Gu Fei patted him on the back.
"It's fine." Jiang Cheng smiled.
The feeling of this hug was...comfortable.
Filled with tacit understanding and appreciation, and also a "closeness" different from everyone else. Although when Jiang Cheng touched Gu Fei's body, he flashed back to that night when Gu Fei's face was almost pressed against his, and flashed back to Gu Fei's face haloed in sunlight...he still felt at ease.
He didn't know why he would use "at ease" to describe a hug, but this was truly the first time, other than Pan Zhi, he had such close contact with someone in a long time.
He could even feel the tips of his hair brushing Gu Fei's face.
Yet there was no awkwardness or resistance.
"Come on, come on," Old Xu waved his arms excitedly after the class scattered, "I'll treat you guys to something nice with Old Lu!"
"I want hot pot," Wang Xu said, "No, I want barbecue...hmm...mutton hot pot also sounds good..."
Everyone followed Old Xu and Old Lu out, the hot-blooded excitement still lingering as they discussed what to eat.
"Hey, there's something I wanted to ask you," Gu Fei said as he walked alongside Jiang Cheng.
"Oh, what is it?" Jiang Cheng replied.
"Do you want to earn some money?" Gu Fei asked.
"Huh?" Jiang Cheng was startled and glanced at Gu Fei.
Gu Fei blurting out something so out of the blue like "Do you want to earn money?" made him suddenly feel like a criminal talking to an ignorant girl.
He almost wanted to say, no I'm still young.