By CLAUDE SCILLEY
If a team is going to get to the Sydenham Golden Eagles, it had better do so early—because it isn’t likely to happen later.
The pattern, one that is becoming all too familiar to coach Shaun Kennedy, played itself out once again Monday in Ottawa, where the Eagles opened the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA basketball tournament with a 49-25 win over the St. Ignatius Falcons of Thunder Bay.
The Eagles were in trouble early in the game, trailing 17-12 at one point in the second quarter. A couple of tactical adjustments later Sydenham was once again the team that hasn’t lost since the regular season began, 18 games ago.
“We had them in size but they had a lot of guys who were scrappy,” Eagles coach Shaun Kennedy said. “They crashed the boards, they moved the ball well in the first quarter.”
All the while, Nick Soulias was lighting it up for the Falcons, scoring 11 points, most of it coming from three three-point baskets.
“The first quarter, we were squeezing the ball a little tight,” Kennedy said. “We were kind of like deer in the headlights a little bit, (not doing) the little things, boxing out and those little intangibles. We were frozen in our tracks in the first quarter.”
Then two things happened: Tom Withey hit a three-point basket to close the gap to two points—“it seemed to give us a spark,” Kennedy said—and the Eagles figured out what to do about Soulias.
From that point, Ignatius didn’t score again until the second half, and Soulias didn’t score at all for the rest of the game.
“We’re sort of trending that way,” Kennedy said. “We seem to be allowing points early in games and we make adjustments and we’re pretty tough to score on in the second half of games.”
This game was a carbon copy of Sydenham’s last two important games. In the Kingston Area final, the Eagles trailed Frontenac early in the third quarter but allowed just two points in a span of about 10 minutes in the middle of the second half—both from free throws—on their way to a 13-point victory.
In the Eastern Ontario final against Smiths Falls, Redhawks guard Devin Wilkinson had eight of his team’s first 15 points and it was a one-point ball game midway through the second quarter. After a timeout, Sydenham scored seven straight points and Wilkinson had just two baskets the rest of the way.
The statistic is striking: the Eagles have allowed just 18 points in their last five fourth quarters, dating to the KASSAA final.
“Sometimes we over-help in the post, instead of having that complete trust that our bigs can handle it,” Kennedy said of his team’s early-game defensive struggles. “We dig in a little bit from our guards and we allow those early looks from (three-point range).
“It’s become a trend for us early in games … we collapse and help our posts play, but our posts are big and strong and can handle themselves. That’s usually the main adjustment that we make, to remind our guards to stay out on shooters, stay locked in on those players that are good from the perimeter. We’re giving them looks that they shouldn’t get.”
Though it’s a simple adjustment, and his players have always responded appropriately—and successfully—Kennedy said it remains a concern.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on our off-ball defence and our weak-side help. As you advance and play tougher teams, you can’t give these teams those weak-side looks. We’ve got to get out on those shooters and contest. Once we do that, we’re very hard to score on.
“It’s not because they’re making mistakes, they’re over-helping when they don’t need to.”
Typically at OFSAA first-round winners play a first-round loser in the second round, but at this tournament, for a reason that isn’t apparent to Kennedy, Sydenham finds itself playing Bishop Macdonell of Guelph Tuesday afternoon in the second round. Ninth-seeded Macdonell also won its first game, 60-45 over Windsor Assumption.
It’s the only winner-winner game in the second round.
“They’re a tougher team than our first matchup, for sure,” Kennedy said. “It looks like they have three or four players that have a pretty solid perimeter game and a good shooting touch. It will be interesting to see how we handle that in the first quarter.”
The winner advances to a quarter-final game Tuesday night; the loser is eliminated.
Though he was limited to only about 12 minutes of playing time—by a sore throat and, later, fouling out of the game—Ben Lusk scored 19 points for Sydenham. Steve Kennedy scored 13 points and Withey, with a pair of crucial three-pointers in the first half, ended the game with 10.
At the AAA tournament in Windsor, the Frontenac Falcons were defeated 68-47 by defending champion Saltfleet of Stoney Creek.
Saltfleet led 15-9 after the first quarter but Frontenac closed the gap to four points, 31-27, by halftime. A 22-point third quarter, however, sent the tournament’s No. 2 seed into the final period with a 13-point lead.
Nicola Djogo, with 28 points, and Kingsley Campbell-Olsen, with 19, led Saltfleet. Carter Matheson scored 23 points for Frontenac.
The Falcons will play Hamilton Cathedral Tuesday at 1:30. Cathedral, the fifth-seeded team in the tournament, won its opening game, 72-43 over OD/Park of Orillia.