By CLAUDE SCILLEY
There was a time in Sunday afternoon’s high school senior boys basketball final that the Frontenac Falcons had the Sydenham Golden Eagles exactly where they wanted them.
Then came halftime, and the Eagles had time to retool.
The result was dramatic.
From being tied at the intermission—and having gone on a 10-2 run in the second quarter to do so—the Falcons were held to just four points in the third quarter. Sydenham, meanwhile, scored 12, and the Eagles were on their way to a 48-35 victory in the Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation Centre.
Sydenham, the undefeated regular-season champion, scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to take a 15-point lead that effectively put the defending champion Falcons away.
The secret was solving Frontenac’s pressure defence, something the Falcons used to create turnovers and generate points in transition to fuel the second-quarter comeback.
“We ran in practice how to beat (their press) but clearly it was better than we thought it was,” Sydenham’s Ben Lusk said. “We couldn’t break it at the start. We tried dribbling with our heads down, which is exactly what they wanted.”
In the second half, the emphasis was on keeping the ball high, Lusk said—“because they have a lot of little guys who put their hands in there”—and otherwise taking advantage of a pretty significant height advantage.
“At the start, a lot of us weren’t taking it to the rim, we were shooting threes, which we didn’t really need at the time,” he said, “but after the half we knew what we had to do: Take it to the rim and draw some fouls. That’s what we did.”
Falcons coach Suche James said his team was simply unable to contend with Sydenham’s size advantage. The Eagles could put four players on the floor who were as big or bigger than Frontenac’s biggest. “That was our big worry with them,” he said.
“They beat us on the boards. It started there, and they got a lot of good looks inside. We thought that maybe we could turn it into a perimeter game, but they didn’t go for it.”
In part, that’s because Frontenac's Hoadley Raymond was limited to spot duty because of an ankle he sprained in practice after Thursday’s semifinal victory over Bayridge. “It had a pretty big (impact),” James said. “He’s our leading offensive rebounder. That hurts. It’s tough to play Sydenham without that type of presence from the guard spot.”
The other factor is that Frontenac didn’t shoot well enough to take the game outside. The Falcons scored just one field goal in the third quarter and just one three-point basket in the first 28 minutes of the game.
“With that type of a size difference, the smaller team typically needs to shoot the ball a little bit better (than we did),” James understated.
Consecutive threes in the fourth quarter briefly cut their deficit to nine points and a steal gave the Falcons possession again, but Frontenac succumbed to both of its Achilles heels on the day—missing both a layup and the ensuing rebound—with a little less than three minutes to play.
When Sydenham scored on its next trip up the floor, the game was essentially over.
James conceded that his team played well in the second quarter, briefly taking a two-point lead in a game it trailed by six at one point. “We just couldn’t keep it up,” he said.
“They ended up getting too many easy baskets inside. They got a couple of offensive rebounds, a couple of really nice cuts inside for layups. The points in the paint were an enormous difference.
“Sydenham just wore us down.”
Sydenham coach Shaun Kennedy tipped his hat to his opponent.
“Frontenac’s full-court pressure is the best that we have seen in 26 games this year,” he said. “It’s lethal. We had a system in place but we had to tweak some things to make it work. They were all over us and they forced us to put that ball down and dribble into places that we don’t want to go. In the second quarter, we did not have enough help or support to control that.
“We had to go back to basketball fundamentals and pass out of it, though passing’s a concern with Frontenac, too, because they cover space really well. They’re very aggressive in off-ball stuff. It’s very hard to make passes without at least seeing the defender. Frontenac’s very quick.”
Already struggling to cope with pressure from their opponent, in the pressurized atmosphere of playing for a county title in a strange gym, not always are players able to adapt, especially when none of them had ever played in a league semifinal before, never mind a championship game.
“They’re smart players,” Kennedy said. “These guys listen and they do trust their coaches, so if we make an adjustment or we make a tweak, the kids really take ownership and apply what we’re saying.”
Lusk led Sydenham with 16 points, 12 of them in the second half. Tom Withey scored 15, most of them coming from three first-half three-pointers. Steve Kennedy scored 11 points for the Eagles, six of them in the fourth quarter.
Carter Matheson led all scorers in a losing cause, with 18 points for Frontenac. He had 12 of his team’s 21 points in the first half.
As the last surviving AAA team in the only conference with triple-A schools in eastern Ontario, Frontenac was already assured of a spot in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations tournament in Windsor in two weeks. Sydenham is bound for the EOSSA double-A championship, a two-day, six-team event that begins Thursday in Smiths Falls.