By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Barry Smith says he’d prefer not to rely so heavily on one player.
“I hate to be a one-player team, because I think that hurts you,” the coach of the St. Lawrence Vikings said.
If, however, from time to time, that has to be the case, Jaz Bains is a pretty handy guy to have around.
Bains scored 26 points Wednesday night to lead the Vikings to a 67-60 win over the Loyalist Lancers in the St. Lawrence College gym, and he did it the hard way: In the face of the withering defensive presence of Loyalist’s Ashford Arthur, and playing the final 4:18 of a three-point ball game one infraction away from fouling out.
Bains scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, including a layup that broke a 54-54 tie midway through the fourth quarter—putting, as it turned out, St. Lawrence ahead for good—a three-point basket that put the Vikings ahead by five points at 59-54 not long after that—their biggest lead since the third quarter—and another three from the corner in the final 30 seconds that put his team ahead 64-60.
“That was massive,” Smith said. “The (shot) clock was ready to run out and we ran a play for a quick hitter. They knew what it was and they didn’t adjust to it.”
It was the fifth time in seven games since Christmas that Bains, the leading scorer in the East division with a 23.9 points-per-game average going into the match, has scored 25 points or more in a game. Since returning from the break, Bains has averaged 26.6 points per game as the Vikings have won six of seven outings.
The only one of those games St. Lawrence didn’t win was one where Bains was an uncharacteristic 4-for-18 from the field, including 0-for-7 from three-point range, in an 87-63 loss at Georgian.
No wonder Loyalist did its best Wednesday night to stifle Bains at every turn.
“They certainly tried to take Jaz out of the game,” Smith said, “and 13 (Arthur) was on him, right in his jockstrap the whole game, but Jaz still had, what, 26? But he worked hard for every damn point.”
Typically, when a player reaches four fouls his coach will take him out of the game, particularly a player who commits his third and fourth fouls in rapid succession, as Bains did Wednesday night. The idea is to let the player collect himself and keep him available for potentially more critical moments at the end of the ball game.
Smith resisted, and kept Bains on the floor for the duration.
“We were nervous about playing him,” Smith said, “but he means so much to the team, we basically told him if it was between giving up a layup and contesting it, let them have the layup.
“We didn’t want him picking up his fifth foul.”
St. Lawrence led for virtually the entire first half, its biggest lead seven points at 33-26 just before halftime, after Bains hit back-to-back threes to open up a one-point game. Another Bains three (he had six in the game) took the lead to nine points at 41-32 early in the third quarter but then the Vikings hit some quicksand. Loyalist went on an 18-3 run and, when Jamal Okunbor and Anthony Lowe hit back-to-back three-pointers, the Lancers led 50-44 when St. Lawrence called time out with 1:29 left.
During that stretch, the Vikings were having difficulty getting the ball inside, and when they did, they had trouble putting it in the basket.
“You can’t coach layups,” Smith said. “We just missed way too many bunnies. They’re college basketball players. You can’t miss those.
“We got down on ourselves a little bit. We don’t stay engaged and sometimes when things go bad we come unglued and we start, not necessarily pointing fingers, but we’re doing too much talking instead of just getting back and playing defence.
“When they hit those two threes … you could see everybody getting nervous. We took the timeout and talked about it. We had a game plan, and we just tried to refocus on what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Big man Donald Gibson got a basket in the final second of the third quarter, and another on the first possession of the fourth quarter to tie the game. That seemed to settle the Vikings down.
“We get a lot of energy when we score,” Smith said, “so when you don’t score, everybody thinks, ‘I’m not going to play defence,’ and they don’t.
“Once we tied it, that seemed to open things up a little bit.”
The St. Lawrence lead was just 61-60 after Funsho Dimeji scored his second straight basket for Loyalist with 54 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The crowd erupted when Bains hit his three off an inbound pass as the shot clock was about to expire with 29.8 seconds left.
The rest of the game was a series of misadventures, as first Loyalist’s Carlo Pantaleon stepped out of bounds while catching a pass on the sideline, then St. Lawrence had the subsequent inbound pass intercepted. Trailing by four points, Loyalist put up a three that was unsuccessful, Taylor Reddick of St. Lawrence got the rebound, and now the Lancers were forced to foul to get the ball back. The Vikings put the game away from the free-throw line.
The win enabled St. Lawrence to even the season series with the Lancers. When the teams met on Friday, Nov. 13, in Belleville, the Vikings, with just six players, were beaten 90-81.
Gibson and Andrew Dawkins finished the game with 11 points apiece for St. Lawrence, with Dawkins leading all players with 13 rebounds. Dimeji scored 14 points for Loyalist, with Pantaleon scoring 11 and Jayvon Lake adding 10 as the Lancers, losing for the sixth time in their last eight games after a 5-2 start, slipped to 7-8.
St. Lawrence, 12-5, moved to within half a game of division-leading La Cité, half a game up on third-place Algonquin. The Vikings now have a rare nine-day break until their next game, Friday, Feb. 12, at home against George Brown.