By CLAUDE SCILLEY
When basketball teams start to see a lead disappear, they don’t always react well.
“When it gets tense, everybody’s shot gets a little tighter,” St. Lawrence Vikings coach Barry Smith said.
It was a phenomenon his team experienced Sunday afternoon, as the visiting La Cité Coyotes started to pull away in the fourth quarter. The Vikings’ three-point shooting eye, which had kept them in the ball game, suddenly abandoned them and, with St. Lawrence stuck at 58 points for what seemed like an eternity, La Cité went from being down three to up seven.
Then the most curious thing happened.
The Vikings somehow managed to turn the game around and all of a sudden it was the Coyotes who were no longer comfortable shooting the basketball. What ensued was a game-ending 18-2 run that gave St. Lawrence a 76-67 Ontario Colleges Athletic Association basketball victory.
The Vikings' fourth win in a row—and their seventh straight at home—lifted them into a second-place tie in the East division standings with Algonquin. Both teams are 9-4 (the Vikings have won both meetings with the Thunder so they hold the advantage in any eventual tie-breaker), six points behind La Cité, which Sunday suffered its first loss of the season.
It was a game of streaks. A 10-3 run put La Cité into the lead in the first quarter, and the Coyotes scored six straight points to take an eight-point advantage into the second. The Vikings answered with an 11-point run at the start of that period to regain the lead and neither team enjoyed much of an advantage after that.
A three-point basket by Jaz Bains of St. Lawrence at the first-half buzzer tied the game 42-42, and after a third quarter where the lead changed hands four times and the game was tied on two other occasions, the Vikings led 56-55.
St. Lawrence did nothing offensively for about three minutes to start the fourth quarter, and La Cité led 65-58 with about four minutes left in the game. A three-point basket by Andrew Dawkins stopped the bleeding and another three-pointer by Bains followed. Then Dawkins, with a defender in his face, hit another three from the top of the key to tie the game 67-67 with 2:15 remaining.
Thus energized, the Vikings were on a roll. A La Cité turnover in the front court sent Bains on his way for a breakaway layup, and 20 seconds later Bains stole the ball at the top of the St. Lawrence key and went in for another basket that put the Vikings ahead 71-67 with 1:27 left.
With about 15 seconds on the clock, Bains hit another three as the shot clock expired to clinch the victory.
St. Lawrence scored the last 12 points of the game, with Bains scoring seven of them.
Bains recalled a timeout midway through the final period when the Vikings collected themselves.
“We’re just, like, ‘We’ve got to get going, we need some stops, we need to play with some desperation,’” he said. “On defence, we started getting tips on the ball, we started diving for basketballs, getting those 50-50 balls, which gave us the possessions to go on offence.
“This shows how good we are. They’re ranked sixth in the country. It’s obviously a good W; it shows we can play with the best.”
Bains finished the game with 29 points, but also seven assists and eight steals.
Smith reflected on the final four minutes of the game, a stretch that began with his team trailing by seven points, having not done much for a while.
“I didn’t think we were playing that bad a defence,” he said, “not great, but not bad, but we were really struggling on offence. We tried a couple of things and we finally hit a few shots that got us back in the game.
“We were running post and they were doing a really good job of our guy rolling down the key, so instead of having him roll, the high post guy popped. We put a shooter setting that screen and we had that shot.”
The transformation, Smith said, was striking.
“You get a lot of energy from offence to play defence,” he said. “When we finally got it tied up, you could just see our energy level pick up. I don’t think (La Cité) is used to being in tight ball games … and I think they got a little tight.”
Indeed, La Cité’s smallest margin of victory this year is nine points, and the Coyotes had won four of their last five games by 21 points or more. In Sunday’s contest, they scored just 25 points in the second half.
“We got a couple of baskets,” Smith continued, “and when you get that two-point lead, then a four-point lead, and now everybody gets a little bit more tight, as we were (getting) a little more energy on defence.”
In both weekend victories, Bains surpassed his season average of 23.3 points per game.
“He’s a helluva ball player,” Smith said. “As he goes, we go. I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that can stop Jaz, one on one. He’s just that fast.”
St. Lawrence got 21 points from Dawkins, 10 of them in the fourth quarter. Taylor Reddick added 13 points to the winning tally. The Vikings were able to do very little in the way of an inside game, rebounded as they were 35-16 under the offensive basket. Indeed, the Vikings had more three-point baskets—15—than they did two-pointers (14).
Daniel Gracia had 24 points for La Cité, while Hess Mayele had 23 to go with his game-high 12 rebounds.
The Vikings resume play with a pair of games on the road next weekend, Friday night at Canadore and Saturday afternoon at Georgian.