By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It’s a puzzler.
One team is big, strong and loaded with fifth-year seniors. The other is energetic and athletic. Both are proven formulas for offensive success but Thursday afternoon neither one of them was particularly fruitful.
“Our last couple of games I’ve looked at the scoreclock and I can’t believe it,” Sydenham Golden Eagles coach Shaun Kennedy said after his team escaped with a 34-26 senior high school basketball victory over the La Salle Black Knights.
“I look at the score and think, ‘That should be a halftime score.’”
To be sure, things started slowly Thursday at the respective offensive ends of the floor and, well, actually got worse. It was 10-10 at quarter time, and neither team reached double figures in a period after that.
Even though La Salle scored just two points in the entire third quarter, it was still a six-point ball game after Dan Walton hit a three-point basket for the Knights to start the final period.
“We’re developing as a team, finding our offensive identity,” La Salle coach Rom Severino said.
Even though La Salle graduated all five starters from the team that went to the double-A OFSAA quarter-finals last year, the Knights haven’t been bad, averaging 49 points per game as they fashioned a 2-2 mark to start the season. They met their match Thursday.
“That’s a really good half-court defence,” Severino continued, “and we found that our one-on-one matchups that we may have exploited against other teams are not going to work against a team as deep and as strong as Sydenham. We have to work on our team offence and concepts and go from there.
“You can’t compensate for the starting five we lost from last year but it’s a wonderful bunch this year in that they’re super keen. They’re athletic; they’re raw, but guys want to get better. It’s a fun team to be a part of, that’s for sure.”
At 5-0, Sydenham is fulfilling the promise many people saw in a team steeped in both height and experience, but Thursday wasn’t the only day the Eagles have had a difficult time scoring. Last week against Holy Cross, they managed just four field goals in the second half, only one in the fourth quarter. Thursday, they went long stretches without scoring at all: three minutes to start the second quarter and two and a half minutes to start the fourth.
“Teams are keying in on us pretty good,” Kennedy said. “Our last couple of games it’s been really hard to score. Teams are making us really work hard to grind out an offence.
“There’s a lot of good defence in this league. It’s very physical this year. We’re a team that likes to go inside and use our height and strength and teams are making that really difficult for us. La Salle is playing really good defence. They’re big and they’re athletic and they’re strong.”
Kennedy believes defence will prevail in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association this year.
“I’m nervous for every game,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t believe in our team and what we’ve got, but I look at other teams and think, ‘They’re playing good basketball.’ La Salle is playing really good basketball, especially considering the players they lost from last year. Their defence is really tough.”
Holding the home team to just 26 points—and just five baskets inside the three-point arc—meant Sydenham was no slouch, defensively, either. In compiling their undefeated record, the Eagles have held an opponent to 30 points or less three times; only once in five games has anyone scored more than 36 points against them.
“We defended well and we have been defending well,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got a lot of size and muscle. Our defence is pretty good right now but it needs to be better. We’re continually trying to tweak and adapt and fix and change things but we’re priding ourselves on our defence. I think that’s what you have to do in a league with so much parity.
“The team that defends the best this year is going to win it. Regardless of the records … at the end of the day there is a lot of parity and there are a lot of teams who are jockeying for position. Nothing’s been easy for us.”
Severino, meanwhile, strives to keep his group nipping at the heels of the more experienced teams.
“One thing we always bring is energy,” he said. “Defensively, position-wise, we’re still learning so much. Our ceiling is sky high but we’re a long way from hitting our ceiling, and everyone realizes that. We’re trying to get better every game.
“The guys have bought in so far, so I’ve got to keep challenging them and make sure that I provide the framework for them (to do so).”
Sydenham got a game-best nine points from Thomas Withey and eight points apiece from Steve Kennedy—all in the first half—and Kurt MacComish, who scored seven of his points in the second half.
The Knights, who hit as many three-point baskets—five—as they did two-pointers, got six-point performances from two players off the bench, Walton and Braden Elliott.
In Thursday’s other game, the Bayridge Blazers, who opened the year with two straight defeats, won their third game in a row, 66-33 over the Napanee Golden Hawks. Austin Macklem, with 18 points, and Josh Barrett, with 16, led Bayridge, while Napanee got nine points from Liam Maracle.
With the loss, Napanee fell to 2-4.
The league now takes a two-week break for Christmas. Play will resume with three games Tuesday, Jan. 6.