By CLAUDE SCILLEY
OTTAWA—Would the Sydenham Golden Eagles otherwise have won the ball game?
Probably not. Teams that allow 72 points in a high school basketball game can seldom expect to win it.
After the Eagles’ 72-62 defeat in the second round of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA basketball tournament, though, you had to wonder.
Sydenham, down 18-3 to start the game and losing by 22 points early in the third quarter, 38-16, had staged a terrific comeback. The deficit was down to five points, 53-48, with more than five minutes still to play in the game. The Eagles were pressing, forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. As sluggish as they were in a truly awful first quarter, they are now flying.
Even after a Macdonell player hit the floor after making a basket to take the lead back to seven points, Sydenham seemed nonplussed. The Eagles were breaking quickly down the floor when the referee suddenly blew his whistle. The Macdonell coach was pointing out that there was perspiration on the floor under the Sydenham basket where the player had gone done.
The official stopped play while it was wiped up.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Sydenham coach Shaun Kennedy said.
Their momentum interrupted, the Eagles momentarily floundered, and the Celtics made them pay. The lead grew to nine points and when Lukas Wood hit a three-point basket for Macdonell with 4:10 on the clock, putting Sydenham 12 points down, the game was pretty much over.
“We lost momentum a couple of times,” Kennedy said, and after that unexpected pause—one that doubtless allowed the Celtics to gather some composure as much as it caused Sydenham’s momentum to grind to a halt—the Eagles never got it back. Sydenham got the deficit down to a single digit only once after that as its 18-game winning streak in regular- and post-season play came to an end.
Though they scored 46 points in the second half, the hole the Eagles had dug for themselves in the first six minutes of the game was simply too deep for them to escape.
“In the second half we kind of erupted, which is sort of what we do, but this time our Achilles heel got us—that first quarter,” Kennedy said. “We were just kind of frozen out there, hesitating. We weren’t aggressive enough at the start.”
Meanwhile, Macdonell was playing aggressively, and the Celtics’ quickness trumped Sydenham’s size advantage for most of the first half.
“They were really smothering Tom Withey, with hands and contact—tight checking, if you want me to be politically correct,” Kennedy said. “That hurt our visibility and made it difficult to get the ball in to the post.”
That contact had Macdonell in foul trouble early but Sydenham was unable to capitalize on the fact that it was in a bonus foul-shooting situation before the first quarter was over.
“I was like, ‘Guys, we’re in bonus; now it’s time to have that rim for lunch. You’ve got to get on that rim, get in there,’ but we didn’t take advantage of it.” In fact, Sydenham didn’t go to the line once after Macdonell got to six fouls.
“In the second half, we said, ‘OK, we’ve got two or three of those guys with three fouls, let’s attack,’ and we did.” Sydenham alternately used a full-court press and a 1-2-2 zone press and the Eagles seemed to derive an energy boost from it.
“Our pressure looked good,” Kennedy said, “but it was too little too late.
“Hindsight is 20/20. We look at each other as a coaching staff and (wonder): should we have pressed earlier in this game? We didn’t want to turn it into a run-and-gun thing; we wanted to play our half-court defence, which we feel is one of the best defences in Ontario.”
Sydenham was faced with a formidable opponent. Macdonell, from Guelph, moved the ball quickly in the front court and shot unbelievably well: Six three-point baskets in the first half alone and 18-for-22 shooting from the free-throw line, including 11-for-13 in the fourth quarter.
Jake Chaput, who drained four threes and was 6-for-7 from the foul line, led Macdonell with 26 points. Chris Poloniato, with 15 points, and Wood, with 13, also reached double figures for the Celtics.
Ben Lusk scored 24 points for Sydenham, 12 of them in the fourth quarter. Withey, with his team’s only two three-point baskets in the game, scored 16 and Steve Kennedy added 10 for the Eagles, who drop to the consolation round and will play again at 8:15 tonight.