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La Salle hangs on for 56-55 win in first-round game at OFSAA

March 4, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

PERTH — Sometimes, Karen Graham was saying Monday afternoon, a basketball team can quickly forget what it was doing when it was being successful — even within the short time frame of a single game.

Such a lapse in excogitation almost cost the La Salle Black Knights their first-round game at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AA boys basketball championship. Amid a puzzling patch of passivity, the Knights let a 12-point halftime lead disappear in the second half and they were hardpressed to gain a 56-55 come-from-behind win over the Essex Red Raiders.

Playing in St. John High School, the Knights got off to a slow start, spotting Essex a six-point lead off the opening tip, but by the end of the second quarter they were performing at their best. The Knights were aggressively taking the ball to the basket, the Raiders didn’t have an answer for La Salle’s inside game, and a pair of three-point baskets in rapid succession by Bruce Burns in a 13-2 second quarter run had Essex reeling going into the intermission.

At the other end of the court, the Raiders had no inside game whatsoever, and they couldn’t hit a three to save themselves.

As quickly as La Salle took control of the game, however, the Knights gave it back in the third quarter. With Essex guard Nikolas Veigli draining shot after shot from outside the three-point arc — and the Knights oddly content to keep giving him opportunities to do so — the Raiders gained some life and a 14-2 run to start the fourth quarter gave them a two-point lead, 51-49, with 4:37 to play.

“Sometimes when you’re up you start playing to not lose it, so you start playing defence when you’re on offence, back on your heels,” the La Salle coach said. “Teams can lose their aggression when the other team’s coming at you.

“I thought that’s what happened.”

The Knights were scoring points inside and drawing fouls driving to the basket in the second quarter, but they inexplicably stopped doing that in the second half. Tanner Graham scored eight points in the second quarter, and only two — though a vital two — the rest of the way.

“In the first half they had a big, wide zone that was coming out at us and I was telling them once we swing the ball, get the ball moving toward you and then drive it right into the middle of the zone, which Tanner did a number of times. We had success with that.

“(Failing to keep doing so) was part of losing our aggression and not taking it into the zone anymore. We were sitting back and taking contested shots instead.”

Coach Graham said it wasn’t a case of Essex defending any differently; it was a matter of her team losing the initiative.

“If you have a team coming after you because they’re down, and you find yourself back,” she said, leaning backwards, to demonstrate, “you know you’re not being the aggressor.

“We got into that protect-our-lead mode, (thinking), ‘Let’s not lose this one,’ rather than, ‘Let’s keep taking it to them.’”

After La Salle fell behind for the first time since early in the second quarter, as he did then, Burns put the Knights back into the lead with a three-pointer. Essex regained the lead, 55-54, with 67 seconds to play and Tanner Graham scored with 40 seconds left to put La Salle back in front by a point.

Strangely, that was the end of the scoring. Essex was playing for one shot and as the clock ticked into the final 10 seconds, Veigli put up a three-point shot from outside the top of the key that missed. No one cleanly grabbed the rebound and Essex had one last shot from left-side baseline as time expired, but it, too, missed.

While the Knights played some good basketball at times, they also did a lot of things poorly. They didn’t handle the Raiders’ pressure defence well, turning the ball over 20 times, 13 times in the second half. That just played into the hands of an Essex team that thrived on transition and was dismal in its half-court offence.

“That’s almost a turnover a minute,” Graham said, “almost a turnover every possession. That killed us.”

La Salle was also 9-for-19 from the free-throw line, including 0-for-2 in bonus late in the fourth quarter when a couple of more points could have changed the complexion of the last minute or so.

“That’s terrible shooting,” the Knights coach said, describing the game as “not a good performance at all.”

Perhaps, it was suggested, it was at least one from which her players could learn a thing or two.

“It’s a little late to be learning lessons,” she said.

Jesse Graham led La Salle with 18 points, seven of them in the first quarter, and Tanner Graham ended the game with 16. Burns’ 12 points came from four three-point baskets.

Veigli was the game’s high scorer with 27 points, almost half of his team’s production. He scored 22 points in the second half — exactly as many as La Salle scored as a team — as he ended the game with six threes. Chris Drouillard was the only other Raider in double figures, with 13.

Tuesday morning, La Salle, the tournament’s No 7 seed, will play James Cardinal McGuigan of Toronto at 11:15. McGuigan, the tournament’s 10th-seeded team, lost its opening round game to Stratford Central, 51-47.

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