Day 1 – Thursday, February 4
Just an amazing and unusual first day in Hamilton.
After a smooth trip yesterday to Ontario, the U13 Boys Basketball team was back at Hillfield Strathallan College (HSC) first thing in the morning, for the opening ceremonies and then three pool games in the “Group of Death.”
Former SMUS teacher and now HSC Headmaster Tom Matthews was on hand to greet us, as were 500 Middle and Senior School HSC students, who had the gym rocking for the tournament opener between the top-seeded hosts and SMUS.
Little did anyone realize, certainly from SMUS, that they were to be part of just an incredibly exciting day of play.
HSC featured one superb post player, a rangy and athletic lefty, who caused no end of grief and ended up scoring over 80% of their points. SMUS struggled through a tense opening half. Down 14-10 at half, the team was soon facing a nine point deficit, after a sluggish start to the second frame. Only Kieran Large, who went on to score a team high of 11 points, looked comfortable on the ball.
Down 23-14 with five minutes to play, the SMUS defence really kicked into gear. Buckets by Graeme Hyde-Lay and Matty McColl, and some frantic teamwork saw the home lead evaporate, with some foul shot miscues also allowing the visitors second life.
At 25-24 down, SMUS gained one final possession, with 18 seconds left to play. The gym was at an absolute fever pitch, as both teams designed strategies in a last timeout. Needless to say, not one SMUS player then went to the planned spots! Amidst the chaos, a desperate back door pass from Jason Scully went awry, before Owen Sudul rescued the game by scrambling after the loose ball. With three seconds to go, he found an open Graeme Hyde-Lay above the foul-line. To his credit, Graeme took his time, and was rewarded when his 20′ shot banked home with a second to play for a 26-25 win!
It felt as if the air had been sucked out of the gym, as all the energy and noise from the HSC fans dissipated immediately. A final HSC “Hail Mary” full length pass was intercepted, and SMUS had claimed a huge opening win.
Game 2 in pool play came several hours later, and was the antithesis of what had gone before. Still pumped from the opening win, and with some changes to the starting lineup, SMUS came out on fire against Holy Trinity School. Matty McColl opened with eight quick points, en route to a 15-0 quarter time lead. More of the same followed, and with the opposition reeling, the team added another 15 to close the half up 30-0. Yes, 30-0! All players hit the scoresheet, with Jack Sherrod, Jake Wilmott, Mike Edwards and Grant Nicholson all showing some smooth touches. If the second half was sloppy, it actually was something of a relief that the scoreline was only 11-10, making the final 41-10 in SMUS’ favour.
This second win set up a pool decider against Collingwood, with the game to be played at the impressive Mohawk College, next door to HSC. For whatever reason, SMUS’ opening ten minutes was extremely sketchy ‒ it was impossible to believe it was the same crew that was 2-0! If there was little funny about Holy Trinity’s inability to register even a single point in the first half of the previous game, the scoreboard in this contest told an even more brutal tale. Indeed, not one single point was registered by either team in the first quarter. The game was tied 0-0, and things did not improve as the second frame got underway. Finally, at the 11-minute mark, Collingwood hit a free throw, then made several baskets to lead 9-0. Fortunately, with another quarter bagel looming, Graeme Hyde-Lay managed a layup before Kieran Large, in what was an eerie foreshadowing of things to come, dribbled the length of the floor to make a tough jumper and bring a hugely forgettable half of basketball to a close. 9-4 to Collingwood!
The second half, after a stern word or two at the break, was a distinct improvement, although Collingwood, behind their star guard, and thanks to some botched SMUS layup attempts, always seemed to be 3-4 points ahead. Then, after two Jack Sherrod baskets in close, an amazing full length drive by Max Pollen, with a free throw to boot, gave SMUS its first lead at 23-22.
Back came Collingwood. The ensuing SMUS defensive possession, up one point and with 45 seconds to play, was a complete disaster, as the opposition guard dribbled right down the middle of the lane for an uncontested layup.
And the fun was just beginning.
After a front court time out with 16 seconds to play, a careless turnover by SMUS gave the ball back to Collingwood. SMUS then was forced to take three deliberate fouls in order to put a Collingwood shooter on the foul line. With 7.4 seconds to play, this player obligingly missed the front end of a one and one. Max Pollen, scrapping among the giants, got his hands on the ball, spun out of traffic, dribbled up the right side to half court and passed ahead to Kieran Large. Kieran caught the ball smoothly, and, as if he had been doing it his whole life, took one quick dribble and banked in a 17′ shot with .4 seconds left to play to win the game.
Two buzzer beaters on the same day. Just amazing!
With the win, (though, as Mike Edwards noted wryly, the team was less than 2 seconds from finishing 1-2) SMUS went unbeaten and topped the Group of Death! As a result, the team moved into a new pool of four teams for Friday’s action, with the top two from each then advancing to Saturday’s Final 4.
Game 1 against HSC was a wonderful sporting occasion, full of twists and turns, and with the noise so loud you barely could hear yourself think! Fingers crossed for tomorrow. SMUS may have used up already a large portion of its luck, but, if playing well, certainly has the potential to win all its Day 2 games. Yet each, in different ways, will present a significant challenge – just the way it should be!
Day 2 – Friday, February 5
With Day 1’s pyrotechnics over and done, the team regathered for another three games, with St. John’s (Vancouver), Upper Canada College and St. Andrews on the agenda in Group A of the Championship draw.
The team duly took the floor against St. John’s at 9am EST, and soon was involved in another nailbiter. A propensity to miss scoring opportunities, particularly layups, continued, and an 18-14 halftime lead was not necessarily a fair reflection of the action. St. John’s continued to stick around, and with four minutes to play the margin was only three. Happily, some good SMUS free-throw shooting kept the opponents at bay en route to a vital 33-25 win.
Again, while the offence sputtered, very good individual and team defence held sway. Graeme Hyde-Lay, with help from his teammates, held the Eagles’ star post player to only three points, while Max Pollen and Matty McColl controlled the perimeter.
Next up for SMUS was Upper Canada College, who had narrowly lost a very contentious and foul-filled opener to St. Andrews. Again, numerous missed SMUS layups and inside shots went awry, and it was not until the fourth quarter that three straight hoops ensured what became a 29-19 victory. Jason Scully, who led all scorers with 12 points, and Jack Sherrod managed honours even on the boards against UCC’s big posts, while Owen Sudul, Mike Edwards, Jake Wilmott and Grant Nicholson again chipped in with a number of little plays not shown in the box score.
With the UCC victory, SMUS gained a Final Four place, as even a loss to St. Andrews would not matter as fewest points allowed was the first tiebreaker in a potential three-way tie. Perhaps the team understood this, as it played a very subdued third game. Though up early 8-2, SMUS then lost its way during an awful scoring drought, falling behind 11-8 before recovering to 13 each at halftime. Yet again, missed layups kept the score low, while countless fouls were also eating up playing reserves. Fortunately, the “Blue Crew” of Owen Sudul, Grant Nicholson, Jake Wilmott and Mike Edwards kept things together in this second frame.
The return of most of the starting unit early in the third quarter produced a scoring bump to 22-17, and a SMUS breakout seemed on the cards. But it was not. More fouls, careless ballhandling and at least another four point blank misfires allowed St. Andrews to stay in touch, and, assisted by a healthy dose of free throws, the Saints came back into contention to lead 29-26, 29-28 and then 30-28 with 15 seconds to play. Fortunately, Graeme Hyde-Lay escaped his marker to tie the score on a tough baseline leaner with 5 seconds to go and force overtime.
In the two minute extra period, a basket by Owen Sudul was sandwiched by both Max Pollen and Graeme Hyde-Lay foulouts. Then Kieran Large joined the parade to the bench, acquiring his fifth foul. More chaos ensued, complete with ballhandling gaffes, travel violations, errant inbound passes and the like. Somehow, Jason Scully managed two free throws for a 32-30 lead, which then became 32-31. Then, the star St. Andrews guard was fouled yet again, and managed one of two with 14 seconds left.
To their credit, with very much a makeshift lineup on the court, the SMUS players held their nerve. Jason Scully grabbed the ball, drove the lane and came up smelling roses as his five footer rattled around before falling. St. Andrews managed a deep look at the buzzer to tie the game but it fell short.
In the end, it was 34-32 OT win for SMUS.
Significantly, with Collingwood upsetting St. George’s 32-28 in the other pool, SMUS was the only team to go unbeaten through the first two days of play. There were some close calls to be sure, but six straight wins had been recorded nonetheless. Also, SMUS became the only school in the country to reach the Final Four in both CAIS soccer and CAIS basketball in the 2009-2010 school year.
In Saturday’s semi-final action SMUS will tip off with a huge and talented St. Georges team. SMUS will certainly have its work cut out for it. The winner of this game will almost certainly face Collingwood in the final, as the Cavaliers have a much easier route to the championship game.
All the boys on the team have done themselves and the school proud. At the tournament coaches meeting last Wednesday, there was much debate as to why a school with no history in the tournament should have been seeded 5th (as opposed to 13th or 14th). The boys, despite not yet firing on all offensive cylinders, have shown exactly why.
Day 3 – Saturday, February 6
While today the dream died, SMUS gave a simply wonderful, gutty semifinal performance, recovering from a 10 point third quarter deficit to run St. Georges to overtime before finally falling 28-25 in front of a packed house.
A nervous, jittery start ensured that scoring was difficult, and indeed, with too many of the players giving the opposition too much respect, SMUS fell behind immediately. Relegated to long outside shots by a St. George’s defence that was big and packed the key, SMUS only scored four points in the first half. Only a scratching, clawing defence kept the game from being a blowout, but a 14-4 score at intermission seemed to leave a mountain too high to climb.
But slowly, inexorably, SMUS came back into the game. Some fine defence by Max Pollen thoroughly frustrated the star St. Georges guard, while Kieran Large, Jack Sherrod and Graeme Hyde-Lay, though absorbing a real physical pounding from the two 5′10, 150 pound Saints posts, refused to buckle.
Then, some shots started to drop, and drives to the hoop produced fouls and free throws. Graeme Hyde-Lay made six straight, Kieran Large also showed his mettle, and when Matty McColl, with the gym at a fever pitch, nailed a pair with 35 seconds to play, SMUS led 24-22.
One final stop and one rebound for a berth in the final!
As has been the case all tournament, the team executed its defensive plan well and forced an off balance St. Georges shot with 12 seconds to go. Unfortunately, one of the Saints posts, through sheer size advantage, corralled the miss and scored to tie the game.
The two minute overtime was always going to be a tricky proposition, with Graeme Hyde-Lay, a key part of the offence, out of the game on fouls. Three foul shots gave the lead back to St. Georges. A final Max Pollen drive produced a foul, but also a deep charley horse, necessitating Mike Edwards to come in and shoot from the line. To his credit, under huge pressure, Mike made one of two to cut the lead to 27-25. But one more make from the charity stripe was then enough for St. Georges to prevail 28-25.
Jason Scully, with 10 points, led the SMUS scoring.
Coaches Bob Newman and Ian Hyde-Lay told the players after the loss that they were more proud of them in defeat than they had been in the wins of the two previous days. A gallant comeback fell just short, but, in the process, the team won so many admirers.
Oh for the resiliency of youth! Not an hour later the team was back on court for the bronze medal game against St. John’s, who had been beaten decisively by Collingwood in the other semifinal.
With Max Pollen unavailable because of some knee swelling, a rejigged lineup took the floor for what became another thrilling encounter. Tied 16-16 at half, the game continued right to the death, with no more than a basket separating the two teams. Absolutely huge plays down the stretch, including a rebound and put back by Grant Nicholson and a tough, driving layup by Jake Wilmott had SMUS in front 27-25 with 19 seconds to play. A steal then led to a loose ball foul on Graeme Hyde-Lay, who, while leading all scorers with 16 points, had uncharacteristically gone 0-6 from the line. He made his first shot to make the margin three points, and this should have been enough to secure the game, as the three point line was not in effect.
Not so fast. A defensive mixup allowed the St. John’s guard to penetrate too deep, and the subsequent “hoop and harm” allowed the opposition to tie the game 28-28.
Fortunately, some quick thinking by Matty McColl got the ball down court quickly. With the St. John’s defence now in disarray, Owen Sudul got the ball up to the rim and then followed a miss to be fouled with less than a second to play. Just another dramatic finish on the cards, as, with the court clear, Owen stepped to the line.
The first shot crawled around the rim, hung on the edge, and fell out. One chance left, as overtime loomed. The second shot crawled around the rim, hung on the edge, and fell in! 29-28 to SMUS, and with that a 7-1 overall record and the bronze medal.
Amazingly, five of the eight games that SMUS played literally came down to the final second or were determined in overtime.
Collingwood went on to edge St. George’s 30-26 heading in championship game, ensuring that their only loss in the tournament was to SMUS.
At the closing ceremonies, SMUS ‘Max Pollen was nominated for the Trickett Award, named after a Grade 10 student from Strathcona Tweedsmuir School who lost his life four years ago in an avalanche disaster.
The tournament complete, SMUS headed for home with so many wonderful memories. Two seconds from being relegated to the consolation side of the draw on Day 1, the team was then one possession from being in the tournament final. There was so much excitement all along the way. The boys gave everything they had and can be so proud of their efforts.