By CLAUDE SCILLEY
Too many times this year, the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers have found themselves at a crossroads in a game, and taken the wrong turn.
Wednesday afternoon in Sydenham, they stayed on the right path.
Though the Panthers watched the host Golden Eagles erase an early 15-point deficit, and push ahead midway through the third quarter, Regi withstood the challenge and emerged with a 59-57 victory in a senior high school basketball quarter-final.
A layup by Jake Gosselin with two seconds showing on the clock gave Regi the win, and sent the Panthers into a game Thursday with the Holy Cross Crusaders that will not only be a Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association semifinal, but a game to decide which team will represent eastern Ontario at the OFSAA triple-A tournament next month in Windsor.
Holy Cross won its quarter-final contest Wednesday, 39-24 over the La Salle Black Knights.
At Sydenham, the Panthers literally raced to a 17-2 lead in the first quarter, scoring 15 straight points seemingly to take command of the game. They did it by applying pressure the length of the court from the opening tip.
“We thought we could force their point guard into a pace of play that he could probably handle, but (could) the rest of his teammates handle it, too?” Panthers coach Ed Kenney said. “The whole point was to live with some mistakes and just do whatever we could to get the game as fast as we could get it.
“We were effective, not by taking the ball out of that young man’s hands. He played very, very well. We were effective getting them in a position on the court and at a pace of play that perhaps they don’t practise all the time—just made them uncomfortable.”
A consequence of that, however, was the Panthers got themselves in foul trouble. They committed 20 fouls in the first half, and by the end of the game three players had fouled out.
“We talk to the kids over and over again about the difference between intensity and emotion, and we did a better job of managing that than almost any time all year,” Kenney said. “The majority of the fouls weren’t necessarily the guy on the ball, it was when we brought the double team and (the second man) saw it as an opportunity.
“That’s the push-and-pull effect of up-tempo—you’re going to force more pace; you’re going to force more contact.”
All those fouls sent Sydenham shooters to the free-throw line 24 times in the first half alone. They Eagles made only 13 of those shots, which is not a great percentage, but it was a big part of Sydenham getting back into the game, since Regi went to the line just twice, and didn’t make either of them.
In the second quarter, Regi got stuck at 26 points for the longest time, and by the time the Panthers scored again, Sydenham had cut the gap to a single point. By halftime it was 31-27 in Regi’s favour, but the Eagles took the lead at 36-35 early in the third quarter.
Sydenham, in scoring 10 of the first 14 points of the second half, appeared poised to pull away and it wouldn’t have been the first time this year Regi found itself at a crucial juncture in a game and lost its way. It didn’t happen this time, however, and Kenney suggested that having gone south in those previous games was a factor in not allowing it to happen this time.
“It’s something that we’ve struggled with,” Kenney said. “We’ve had a couple of games where we got down and we focused on what happened, instead of what was going to happen. I don’t think we did that today.
“They say that winners have an advantage because they’ve won. In our case, it was an advantage for us to have gone through that and seen the other side. In the past when we got down four and called time out, and said, ‘Look, the next couple of possessions, we have to play defence,’ (instead) we focused on scoring the five-point shot.
“This time, our defence was good in that situation.”
Sydenham’s biggest lead was two points, however, and then the home team got stuck at 37. At that point Regi went on a 14-0 run that was fuelled by seven points from the free throws and subsequent possessions that arose from back-to-back intentional and technical fouls.
Kenney said in the final analysis, stopping the slide was the most satisfying part of the game.
“We got down, we called time out, and there was no panic; nobody said, ‘Let’s try this,’ or ‘Let’s do that.’ Largely we just stuck with the plan. Even in the fourth quarter … when the young man stepped up and hit a three, I liked the fact that we pulled the ball out of the net, went right back down and had a great possession right after.”
Still, the Eagles had one more comeback left in them. Trailing 51-43 going into the fourth quarter, they closed to within 57-55 when Isaac Sanderson hit a pair of free throws with 65 seconds left in the game.
Regi had the ball out of bounds with 32 seconds to play but when Dean Medeiros was fouled, he missed the shot while shooting in bonus situation with 22.3 seconds on the clock and Sydenham called time out.
Sanderson hit a shot to tie the game with 13 seconds remaining but on the ensuing trip up the floor, Medeiros dished to Gosselin under the basket for the game-winning score.
Sydenham was playing without three players, who coach Brett Walsh said had “other commitments.” He said that wasn’t that much of a concern—“Regi didn’t go very much deeper than us, anyway”—and he tipped his hat to the Panthers.
“That’s the best I’ve seen them play all year,” he said. “It was a gutsy effort by both teams.”
The comebacks, Walsh said, derived from playing better defence. “We kept guys in front of us, forced them to take tougher shots against us.
“We weren’t giving up the easy ones, we capitalized on the mistakes that Regi was making and we kept our cool. We’ve been able to do that all season—stick with a team, even though we fall behind. It’s a testament to how hard these guys work for each other.”
Once they came all the way back from down 15 to leading by two, however, it was almost as if the Eagles thought their mountain had been climbed. Just as quickly, they let the lead slip between their fingers, which Walsh said is simply a trait common among young teams.
“We haven’t figured out how to sustain that effort, and sustain the things we’re doing really well, to capitalize on the lead we’ve just taken, so the lead doesn’t grow any bigger than a couple of points,” he said. “Then you give an experienced team like Regi an opportunity to get back on top again. That’s what happened today. We started taking bad shots, we started giving up easy ones again, and all of a sudden they string a few of those together and take the lead.”
It didn’t help that, right around the time Sydenham went ahead in the third quarter, Eric Lusk took his fourth foul and Walsh had to sit him down. With six of his team’s first 10 points of the second half, Lusk was out of the game while Regi built its second big lead.
“It’s tough to maintain the level of play when one of your best players is out of the game for that period of time,” Walsh said, “especially when he’s as important to us as Eric is.”
In the only one of the quarter-finals that would qualify as an upset—in that Regi finished fifth, one spot below Sydenham, and was the only visiting team to win Wednesday—Gosselin played brilliantly for the Panthers, with 24 points, 11 of them in the third quarter. Medeiros scored 12 points for Regi, while Eli Deluzio added nine, including a pivotal three in the middle of the fourth quarter that interrupted the Sydenham rally and briefly took the visitors’ lead back to six points.
Lusk finished with 21 points and Sanderson scored 20, a performance that included 9-for-13 shooting from the free-throw line.
Thursday’s other semifinal will pit the Frontenac Falcons against the Kingston Blues in a game that will not only determine the other KASSAA finalist, but which school will advance to the double-A Eastern Ontario Secondary Schools Athletic Association tournament next week. Frontenac had little difficulty with visiting Napanee, defeating the visiting Golden Hawks 80-24. At KC, the Blues shook off some early shooting woes to defeat the Queen Elizabeth Raiders 66-49.
The Blues, second-place finishers in the regular year, led just 9-8 after one quarter of play, their dominance under the boards made all the more evident by the fact they were shooting dreadfully and often had to give themselves three or four cracks at the basket before they could put one through the hoop.
As poorly as they were shooting—perhaps as a consequence of playing just their second game since Jan. 21—the Blues were playing marvelous defence, not giving QE easy access to the basket at any point in the game.
KC scored 25 points in the second quarter to take a 34-20 halftime lead, an advantage the Raiders—who had to do without one of their premier players, Evrold Watts, after he fouled out early in the third quarter—never managed to reduce to single digits the rest of the way. Though the Blues may have found their shooting eye, getting seven baskets from beyond the three-point arc from five different players, they were still plagued by a foul-shooting problem that has bothered them from time to time all season.
Aside from Sayre Powers, who was 3-for-4 from the free-throw line, KC was collectively 2-for-11.
Powers had a terrific game for the Blues. He scored 17 points before leaving the game for good midway through the third quarter—after having already scored 11 points in the period—and had anyone been keeping track of such things, he’d surely have reached double digits in rebounds, with perhaps half a dozen assists and steals.
Eleven different players scored for KC, with Bertug Yoruk scoring nine points—the proceeds of three first-half three-pointers—while Reilly Lacasandile and Kai Ferrall added seven points apiece.
Tyler Bark led all scorers in the losing cause, with 27 points for QE. After missing his first two free throws, Bark was 7-for-8 from the foul line the rest of the way. John MacDonald scored 12 points, seven of them in the third quarter.
Both of Thursday’s semifinals are scheduled for 4 p.m., at Holy Cross and KC. The two winners will meet to decide the KASSAA champion Sunday afternoon at 2 o’clock in the main gym at the Queen’s University Athletics and Recreation Centre.