By CLAUDE SCILLEY
SMITHS FALLS—The less people know about his basketball team, Shaun Kennedy believes, the better.
To that end Thursday, the Sydenham Golden Eagles did some unfamiliar stuff on the first day of the Eastern Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association double-A basketball tournament.
It didn’t hurt the Eagles a bit. In quickly gaining the upper hand—on their way to two decisive vicories—the Eagles gave Kennedy a chance to experiment with some things his Kingston Area adversaries might not recognize.
It was a strategy designed, he said, to see which among Plans B, C and D might be useful if, down the playoff road, Plan A no longer works.
“We’re trying out some new systems, some zone (defence) and some (full-court) pressure,” the Sydenham coach said, after his team whipped St. Michael of Kemptville 56-21 and St. Joseph of Cornwall 61-32 on the first day of the two-day tournament.
“We’re playing around to see what system ultimately works best for us.”
It could be suggested that a team that was undefeated through 10 league and three playoff games already had things pretty well figured out, and perhaps introducing new material so late in the campaign might be risky, but Kennedy explained his reluctance to unveil certain things sooner.
“We’re not trying anything new, per se,” he said. “We’ve had these systems in place. We’ve been a little bit afraid to use them in KASSAA and this tournament has so far given us the opportunity to try some new things.”
KASSAA, he explained, is a close-knit basketball community. Once the word gets out that a team plays a certain way, or does something in a particular fashion, opponents can prepare. The element of surprise really doesn’t exist as it will going forward, to the EOSSA playoffs Friday and possibly OFSAA after that.
“Up here, no one really has any insight as to what we will run so we’re showing a lot of different things,” Kennedy said. “It’s kind of nice. It gives us an opportunity to see which players fit into zone (defence), which players fit in with man and what players fit in with pressure.
“We’re playing really good basketball. With our height and length, we have that extra ability to play around with stuff. We’re trying to figure out what systems are best for us, in case we need it.”
Sydenham didn’t need it Thursday morning, as the Eagles buried St. Mike’s under a withering defensive display. The Mustangs didn’t get a basket until the game’s seventh minute; they didn’t get their second until more than 11 minutes had been played, and they didn’t score in the second half until the 2:20 point of the third quarter.
Sydenham led 33-8 at halftime and scored the first nine points of the second half.
Eight different players scored for the Eagles, led by the 16-point performance of Ben Lusk. Tom Withey had 12 points, 10 of them in the second quarter, and Steve Kennedy scored 10. Everyone in the Sydenham lineup played, including Isaac and Will Sanderson, two juniors who have been added for the tournament.
Will Sanderson scored a basket in his senior debut, and Isaac got his first senior field goal in the afternoon.
“We were able to get them into the game, just to have them experience this with us,” Kennedy said. “They let us beat on them once in a while in practice so we thought we’d bring them along on this journey to reward them.”
St. Joseph’s, which in the meantime lost to St. Michael by 12 points, gave Sydenham a better test, but not by much. The Eagles’ lead was 10 points after the first quarter and 20 by halftime, 34-14. With bench players getting most of the floor time for Sydenham in the fourth quarter, the Cornwall team scored just four points.
There were times in that game where the Eagles showed some carelessness, throwing uncontested passes out of bounds, dribbling the ball off their feet, that sort of thing. It suggested that perhaps things were coming too easily and concentration may be waning, but Kennedy didn’t necessarily see it that way.
“Possibly,” he said, “but I attribute it more to getting guys into new places and testing the waters with our systems and our chemistry. You come through a quarter-final and a semifinal and final (in KASSAA) and you sort of have your seven or eight players who are tight and have that chemistry but at this tournament, we’ve had the opportunity to get deep into our bench. Maybe that’s part of the reason for the turnovers.”
Steve Kennedy had a terrific game for Sydenham. A dominant rebounder in both games, he scored 26 points, 10 of them in the first quarter. Lusk scored nine points in the opening eight minutes, on his way to a 22-point game.
Depaker Yonaraja scored 16 points for St. Joseph’s, including three three-point baskets.
There are six teams at the two-day tournament, divided into two pools for round-robin play. Sydenham, the top seed, finished atop one of them and the Eagles will play Fellowes of Pembroke who, at 1-1, finished second in the other pool. St. Michael will play the host Smiths Falls Redhawks in the other semifinal, with the winners meeting for the championship at 3 p.m.
Sydenham played Smiths Falls and Fellowes in a preseason tournament, and lost to both of them. At the time, four players—Kurt MacComish, Dylan Fisher, Withey and Sam Moyse—were in the midst of a National Capital Bowl football run and hadn’t yet joined the basketball team.
At stake Friday is a berth in the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA tournament, March 9-11 in Ottawa.