By CLAUDE SCILLEY
OTTAWA/March 11—Often, when a player is mired in the kind of lousy shooting luck that befell Thomas Withey in the third quarter of Wednesday afternoon’s basketball game, one of two things happen.
Sometimes the player will get discouraged and stop trying; sometimes his coach will ask him to do other things.
The thought never crossed his coach’s mind, and evidently Withey didn’t entertain it, either, and it was fortunate for the Sydenham Golden Eagles that they didn’t.
That’s because Withey nailed two key three-point baskets in the fourth quarter, and hit seven straight free throws in the final minute or so of the game, clinching a 59-50 win over the Centennial Chargers of Belleville in the consolation final of the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA tournament at Mother Theresa Secondary School.
It was yet another comeback win for the Eagles, their fourth in five games here, and to achieve it this time they had to overcome a 10-point deficit at the end of the first quarter; being down 13 points late in the second quarter, and five points down twice in the first three minutes of the fourth.
Trailing by nine points at halftime, 27-18, Sydenham embarked on a 9-1 run to start the third quarter to get back in the game. The Eagles actually took the lead at one point, when Ben Lusk dropped back-to-back baskets, one from three-point range, to put Sydenham on top, 34-32, but then came a number of trips up the floor where Withey couldn’t buy a basket.
That coincided with a 9-2 run that had Centennial on the verge of breaking the game open, leading 43-38 three minutes into the final period. Mason Alger stopped the bleeding when he was fouled under the basket, and turned it into a three-point play. Then Withey hit his first three to give Sydenham the lead again.
Centennial surged ahead again, but Withey’s second three-pointer, with about three minutes on the clock, tied the game at 47-47, and then Steve Kennedy completed a three-point play of his own, giving the Eagles a lead they would keep for the rest of the game.
Coach Kennedy made sure Withey was the one handling the ball at that point, and Centennial had no choice but to foul a player who had regained his shooting touch. With Sydenham leading 50-48 with two minutes to play, Withey proceded to score seven of his team’s final nine points from the free-throw line.
It could have been vindication of Coach Kennedy’s choice to leave the ball in Withey’s hands, and to continue to give him the green light to shoot, but Kennedy said there really was no decision to be made.
“Tom Withey has probably the most will (I’ve seen),” he said, “not only the will to train hard, but the will to win. He wills himself to victory.
“He’s really a special kid, he really is. He battles extremely hard. He was the pulse of this journey we’ve been on all season. Through and through, he’s our shining mirror. He just has so much will to win.”
In the final game of his high school career, Withey scored his tournament-best 27 points, 18 of them in in the second half, 13 of them in the fourth quarter.
“Not being in the medal round, he was really disappointed, and we had some conversations around that,” Kennedy said, “but at the end of the day, that kid has so much willpower that he didn’t want any game to be his last game.
“The beauty of this game is we knew it was his last game. We knew that whatever the outcome of this game, that was it.”
Alger also had his best game of the tournament, with 11 points, six of them in the second quarter, at a time the Eagles struggled to get points from their post players. It’s remarkable to think that by halftime, Sydenham was still within sight of the lead, though Kurt MacComish, Ben Lusk and Steve Kennedy were all still without a basket.
Centennial, which ended the tournament 2-3, got 14 points from Blake Reid, 12 points from Zack Mullins and 11 from Chase Peck.