By CLAUDE SCILLEY
You can talk all you want about tactics and strategy, or systems and momentum, but there’s really only one reason why the Frontenac Falcons won their basketball game Thursday.
“Carter Matheson was a puzzle we were just never able to solve,” Bayridge Blazers coach Geoff Stewart said, after his team was eliminated from the Kingston Area Secondary School Athletic Association senior playoffs, and you don’t need to be a sabermetrician to understand the significance of Matheson’s 35-point contribution to Frontenac’s 64-50 victory.
A huge smile creased the visage of Falcons coach Suche James when he was asked after the game to describe Matheson’s performance. “Carter was good today,” he said, simply.
It’s not just for the fact he scored more than half of his team’s points that Matheson’s performance was remarkable. He scored 10 points in the first quarter, keeping his team in the game at a time when Bayridge twice held leads of six points. He scored eight points in the second quarter, as the Falcons overcame the deficit and started to take over the game.
Just as Bayridge began to mount a comeback in the third quarter, cutting a 15-point Frontenac lead to just nine with a bit of a run, Matheson hit a three-point shot from the top of the arc, essentially telling the Blazers, ‘No, you don’t.’
Bayridge never got the deficit down to a single digit after that.
“We’ve played them seven times in the last two years,” Stewart said. “We’re 1-6. The one, Carter sat with back spasms. He probably averages 27, 28 points against us.
“You throw as much as you can at a kid to make him think about what he’s got to do to score but we defend him above and he scores; we defend him below, he scores; we defend him in man, he scores; we defend him in zone, he scores.”
Matheson hasn’t scored as much this year as people might expect of a veteran elite player, but James said that’s because he’s been asked to do different things.
“We’ve always bugged him about (not) being a vocal leader,” James said. “This year we decided, we’re not going to get on him about that. ‘You just lead by example with what you do on the floor,’ and he’s taken that to heart.
“He still doesn’t say much but he knows that the guys will respond to how he plays and he’s taken that seriously. Today was an example of that. If you want to talk about anyone working us out of that first quarter, it was him. There were moments in that game where he just took over and said, ‘You know what? I’ve got to do this,’ and he went out and scored or he made a great defensive play or took a charge.
“He’s our leader. He’s our guy.”
Bayridge clearly had Frontenac on the ropes early. The teams traded baskets at the start, but an 8-2 run had the Blazers leading 14-8 when Frontenac called time out at 4:46 of the first quarter. Coming off the break, Hoadley Raymond hit a three for the Falcons, starting them on a 12-0 run that ended with another three, by Tristan Halladay, early in the second quarter.
It took Bayridge more than four minutes of the second period to score—a pair of free throws by Jordan Fehr—and almost five minutes for the Blazers to get their first basket as Frontenac grew the lead to 30-21 by halftime.
“We were giving them some easy baskets in transition,” James said of his team’s sluggish start. “A little bit of it was nerves, just getting back on defence. Sometimes it’s a slow process in your minds when you’re a little bit tight. It wasn’t even an issue with our half-court defence; it was just easy baskets in that first quarter—we just didn’t react well enough.
“I knew once they got into the game they were going to work that stuff out, so I wasn’t too worried about it. I didn’t think we had to change anything. It was just a matter of getting rolling into the game, and it was going to take five or six minutes to do that for this group, but that’s OK. We’re going to work through that.”
Though his team played well at the start, Stewart knew it was not quite enough.
“Not well enough,” he said, “to get (Frontenac’s) body language to change, and because we couldn’t get their body language to change, and we couldn’t get them to get down on themselves and they were able to stay energized through a slump. They fought out of it.
“Not to be disrespectful of Carter’s ability—he’s a tremendous player in the post—but their perimeter guys know well what to do to create opportunities. You can see that they’ve been together. The nucleus of that team is a returning Grade 12 team and you’ve got to take your hats off to them. We didn’t rebound the way we needed to rebound to have a chance to win the game, and we had lots of good shots that didn’t go down, particularly in the first half. Credit to them. They got us.
“There’s a reason they finished second and we finished third. I was hoping that I would have evidence to the contrary, but I think the best two teams are in the KASSAA final.”
Tristan Halladay and Quincy Saunders-Scholes each had eight points for Frontenac, while Raymond had seven and Brendan Steele six. Bayridge got 16 points from Austin Macklem and 14 from Fehr, eight of them in the first quarter. Matt Brash scored eight points for the Blazers, who were without the injured Michael Powley. Aaron Peddle came off the bench to hit a pair of fourth-quarter threes.
Frontenac now has its rematch with the Sydenham Golden Eagles in Sunday afternoon’s championship game. Sydenham, which finished the regular year undefeated—with a 51-41 win over the Falcons in the penultimate game of the season—gained its berth in the final Thursday with a 58-38 home-court win over the Kingston Blues.
Game time for Sunday’s final at the Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation Centre is 3 p.m.