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La Salle, Frontenac to meet in senior basketball final

February 14, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers left the window open Thursday afternoon.

“It wasn’t open for long,” Panthers coach Ed Kenney said, “but it was open.”

While it was, the La Salle Black Knights burst through to score 15 straight points, which proved to be the better part of the difference in their 53-33 victory in one of two Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association senior basketball semifinals.

In the other contest, the Frontenac Falcons prevailed in overtime over the Holy Cross Crusaders, 58-57.

That means the county final Sunday afternoon (3 o’clock at the Queen’s Athletics and Recreation Centre) is for local bragging rights only, since La Salle had already secured its berth in the Eastern Ontario AA tournament and Frontenac is now KASSAA’s last surviving AAA team.

The outcome at La Salle was expected, since the Knights finished first in the regular year at 9-1 and sixth-place Regi, 5-5, had been a 12-point victim when the teams met in January. What wasn’t necessarily expected was how well Regi would play early in the ball game, falling behind 10-4 only to come back and tie the score 12-12 early in the second quarter.

That’s when the sash blew open. Braden Elliott hit a three-point basket, La Salle’s first score of the quarter, about three minutes in. A pair of Regi turnovers in the front court were turned into two quick La Salle baskets — including another from beyond the arc from Elliott — and the 15-0 run was on that would take the Knights into halftime with a 27-12 lead.

When La Salle scored seven of the first eight points of the second half, the outcome ceased to be in question.

The Knights were not shooting well and Regi was gaining momentum when coach Karen Graham called time out a little less than two minutes into the second quarter.

“I told them to have a bit of fun and just play,” she said. “They looked like they were tight and worried. They needed to loosen up and just play the game.

“I wasn’t actually worried. They just needed to play a bit and get the nerves out. We weren’t hitting our shots. It felt like once they started to sink we’d be OK. We had to wait for it but (in the meantime) they gave us a fight.”

Kenney said the La Salle timeout was a boon to his team. “We looked at it and said, ‘Wow, we’re in this thing, they’re fighting us now, they’re not taking us for granted.’”

The Panthers, however, could not keep it up.

“As a coach, you’re looking at two things about your team,” Kenney said. “You’re looking at the scoreboard, but after a while you’re looking at your team and saying, ‘Are we playing well?’ and we were playing really well.

“We had two possessions to take the lead and I think (if we had done that) it would have really solidified our belief. They were both good looks, they just didn’t go in.

“When La Salle switched defences I thought some of our inexperience caught up with us a bit and we had a couple of bad possessions. With so much of our team still learning how to play together our margin for error is very small.”

La Salle is still finding ways to win despite having two starting guards on the bench with injuries. Bruce Burns has a broken wrist and may be able to return if the Knights make it to OFSAA. Nick Ackley, recovering from getting a bit of metal in his eye a couple of weeks ago, played Tuesday but did not play Thursday.

“It’s a collective thing,” Graham said, reluctant to reveal exactly what steps she’s taken to overcome the hardship. “Everybody was eager and willing to step up.”

Though he wasn’t present on the floor, Burns still has been playing a role, his coach said, by helping to mentor his replacement.

“Bruce has a huge basketball IQ and that’s a lot where we miss him,” Graham said. “We miss him defensively.

“I’ve had him take on a coaching role to help me and he’s been doing that. It makes a difference, coaching them individually in practice, and even on the bench here. He said some critical things, reminding them to talk on defence. He knows they haven’t played as much and he’s helping them to step up.”

Elliott took over Burns’ traditional role as the outside threat. He hit three three-pointers and finished with 11 points.

Jesse Graham led La Salle with 20 points, eight of them in the first quarter, while his brother, Tanner, had a spectacular game with eight points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and eight steals.

Duncan Lambert had 11 points for Regi, seven of them in the fourth quarter.

“Our boys are 5-5 on the year, in sixth place, and I don’t know if we could have had a more competitive season,” Kenney said. “We had leads on almost everybody in the league, even the teams that beat us.

“There was four minutes (today) where we just didn’t keep the same compete level and some of our inexperience showed through. Against a lesser team we might have got out of jail but they hit the threes when they had the opportunity and got to the basket on a couple of long passes and got the inside-out looks.”

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