By CLAUDE SCILLEY
It’s been missing for most of the month, but Friday afternoon the Frontenac Falcons rediscovered their trademark pressure defence—and the Sydenham Golden Eagles were no match for it.
A withering full-court attack had the Eagles on their heels from the opening tip, and the Falcons went on to post a 53-46 victory in the only Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior boys basketball game of the day.
The win leaves Frontenac in sole possession of third place at 6-2 as the league heads into its two-week break for final first-semester exams. Sydenham, meanwhile, settles into fourth place at 5-3, having had its four-game win streak snapped in the process.
Sydenham spent two timeouts in the first three minutes of the game trying to adapt to the pressure the Falcons were pouring on. Frontenac scored the first eight points of the game and the Eagles didn’t get a field goal until more than four minutes had been played.
“Certainly in January, it’s the most intense we’ve been,” Frontenac coach Suche James said. “We have been that intense. In December we had a really good stretch, and for whatever reason we hadn’t seen it (again) until today, and we’re sure happy we saw it again, because that’s what we do.
“Without it, we’re nothing. We really are nothing.”
Simply, the Falcons were more active than they’ve been in the last three weeks.
“We were sprinting places and reacting to what the basketball was doing away from the ball,” James said. “We were way more aware away from the ball, and we were sprinting on the ball a lot more than we had all month.
“We’re still not there yet. We’re still not to the place where we were in December, but it was encouraging. We got the layups; we got the turnovers. Good things come from that.”
Sydenham coach Brett Walsh said it wasn’t so much a case of his team not having faced pressure defence before, but Frontenac’s ability to apply it well. “They’ve always done it well,” he said.
“Every year, Frontenac’s got a team that can really pressure the ball, make your guys make tough decisions at high speed, and it’s not just the guys on the ball who do their job well, the other three players on the floor rotate to take away the easiest passes.
“They’re very disciplined, and you have to be pretty disciplined in response when you’re bringing the ball up the floor, or it turns into a turnover fest.”
Sydenham got back into the ball game, and actually took a 15-14 lead midway through the second quarter, but Frontenac then went on a 12-2 run to halftime and went into the break with a 26-17 lead.
The lead grew to 35-19 before Sydenham started picking away the lead. Still, the home team led by 15 points, 41-26 at three-quarter time.
Then, Frontenac’s offence suddenly disappeared. Playing without point guard Kyle Casford, who was ill, the Falcons went almost the entire fourth quarter without a basket, until Connor Vreeken scored one with 57 seconds left in the game.
Sydenham, meanwhile, had a 20-point quarter, and got the deficit down to four points with 70 seconds left to play, but they couldn’t complete the comeback.
Frontenac likely would have succumbed had the Falcons not been sent to the free-throw line 17 times in the final period, from where they made 10 shots.
“As the game went on, we settled down a little bit, particularly our point guard, Isaac Sanderson,” Walsh said. “He started not to force things so much, started to control his own tempo a little bit, keep his head up and look for the easy play.
“Other guys started to help him out a little bit more, too. They were coming back to the ball and giving him an outlet … but at the same time Frontenac was getting tired. They were running all game. It’s hard to do something like that all game effectively and still play at high intensity.”
Eight games into the nine-game regular schedule, James said the Frontenac offence remains unsettled.
“We’re still trying to figure it out,” he said. “We’re still looking at changes, we’re still not comfortable with it.
“We haven’t had 10 guys at practice all month. It’s very difficult to deal with offence when you don’t have that. Because we worked so hard today, we dealt with it.”
Though it fell short, Walsh said his team’s fourth-quarter rally is significant. “That’s a growth moment for a young team,” he said.
“Two of our starters are in Grade 11, one of our starters has barely played basketball before, and we bring three guys off the bench who have never played basketball before, so you’re bound to go through stretches of really low points, but the fact that they work so hard and they’re willing to listen and they support each other, means you’re going to have really good spurts as well. It’s a matter of getting enough experience to put it all together.
“As the season’s gone on, we’ve found that we’ve tightened things up a little bit. Whereas at the start of the year, we’d go through bad stretches for an entire half sometimes, this game we went through bad stretches for six or seven minutes. It’s encouraging.”
Vreeken led Frontenac with 20 points, including a pair of three-point baskets in the third quarter. Tristan Halladay, 4-for-6 from the foul line, and Jack Rowlatt, who scored seven points in the third quarter, each ended the game with eight points for the Falcons.
Sanderson led all scorers in the losing cause, with 25 points, more than half his team’s total. He scored 16 points in the fourth quarter, when he was 6-for-8 from the foul line and hit back-to-back threes in the game’s final two minutes.