By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Steph Barrie knew it wasn’t going to last. The collective shooting eye that delivered 36 points in the first 10 minutes of his team’s ball game simply wasn’t sustainable.
“We shot 75 per cent in the first quarter,” the coach of the Queen’s Golden Gaels said, “and those numbers are not going to continue, most games.”
Indeed, they didn’t. The Gaels, who led the Guelph Gryphons by as many as 24 points late in the first half, watched most of that lead melt away as the visitors closed the gap to five points early in the fourth quarter.
Queen’s shook itself out of the doldrums, however, and from there slowly pulled away, finally leaving the Athletics and Recreation Centre Friday night with a 93-81 Ontario University Athletics men’s basketball victory.
The win, Queen’s second in six post-Christmas games, left the Gaels with an 8-5 record to take into their game Saturday night against the Lakehead Thunderwolves. Guelph, which went into Friday’s game having won three of its previous four games, fell to 5-7.
Playing their first home game in 76 days, the Gaels could do nothing wrong in the opening 10 minutes. Tanner Graham scored 13 points, only four less than the entire Guelph team. Queen’s was successful on 16 of its 21 shots from the field (76.2 per cent success), including two of three from three-point range, and they out-rebounded Guelph 10-6, including 9-2 under the defensive glass.
That first quarter was the foundation of a 54-33 Queen’s lead at halftime, but even in such a commanding lead, Barrie could see cracks developing.
“We had a great first half,” he said, “but the reality is it’s an ebb-and-flow game, and you know that though you had that flow in the first half, inevitably in 40 minutes the other team is going to find a rhythm. At this level, everyone’s good enough for that to happen.”
Halftime, therefore, was spent addressing things Barrie foresaw happening in the second half.
“We talked about some of the things in the second quarter that maybe we were getting away with, but were issues,” he said. “(Guelph was) getting to the rim way too easily, we were fouling too much, and those became problems in the second half.
“The good thing is when they came into the timeout it wasn’t the first time they heard it. They’d heard it at half, and then we reaffirmed what we were talking about. Maybe that allows you to get the correction done quicker, because it’s the third time they’re hearing it.
“I hope that’s how it works.”
Careless defence wasn’t the only issue for the Gaels, however. Their shooting eyes betrayed them—hitting barely 38 per cent of their shots in the third quarter, a period in which they scored just 15 points. The Gryphons, meanwhile, closed the quarter on an 8-3 run, and they then scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to reduce the gap to 69-64.
“Both sides of the ball are tied together,” Barrie said. “When your offence is good, your defence will be better, and vice-versa. Our offence wasn’t producing, and that had a negative impact on our defence. They got out in transition, we weren’t set as much.
“Once we got the ball into the posts, I felt like we regained some composure, offensively, and now you’re coming off made baskets or free throws, which makes it easier to set your defence, and we got more stops.”
A 19-6 run over the next five minutes, led by Ryall Stroud’s seven points, put the Gaels back in command, however, and with just over two minutes to play, Queen’s led 88-70. The home team coasted home from there.
“We played a great half,” Barrie said. “We actually played some good minutes in the fourth quarter, but there was a stretch in that third that we have to fix.
“We get another opportunity (Saturday). I’m looking forward to seeing if they can meet the challenge. Lakehead will be very, very tough.”
Sukhpreet Singh again led Queen’s with 24 points, while Stroud finished the game with 19 points and a game-best nine rebounds. Graham had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocked shots.
Ahmed Haroon scored 17 points for Guelph, while Daniel Dooley and Jonathan Wallace scored 13 points apiece.
The Thunderwolves come to town having beaten York 78-63 Friday night in Toronto. The Wolves, 7-5, are undefeated since Christmas, and they beat McMaster, then ranked No. 4 in Canada, twice last weekend.
“They’re playing really well,” Barrie said. “They’re a very good defensive team, and they have a couple of dynamic guards, really, really quick guys that we have to contain.
“We have our work cut out for us tomorrow. If we can put together 40 minutes, I love our chances. We just have to work on putting that 40 minutes together.”