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La Salle eliminated from OFSAA AA basketball tournament

March 5, 2014

By CLAUDE SCILLEY

PERTH — Two things conspired to doom the La Salle Black Knights Tuesday night — the foul shots that weren’t and the three-point shot that wasn’t.

For the second time in three games at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations boys AA basketball tournament, the Knights were dreadful from the foul line. Teams can seldom hide from making just 14 of 30 free throws at the upper echelon of provincial play.

Then there was a sequence in the third quarter that proved to be more than La Salle could overcome in their 69-57 quarter-final loss to the Ascension of Our Lord Eagles of Mississauga.

Down by as many as 14 points — 19-5, four minutes into the game — La Salle battled back to trail by five at halftime and by just one, 34-33, when Bruce Burns hit back-to-back three-point baskets early in the second half.

Midway through the third quarter Burns, La Salle’s No. 15, hit another three from the corner to the left of the hoop that appeared to stem a rising Ascension tide and cut a seven-point lead back to four. It was quickly waved off, however, as La Salle was called for an obstruction foul far away from the play, underneath the basket. On the subsequent possession, Ascension’s No. 15, Theodore Thomas, got a three-point basket to take the lead to 10.

After battling so gamely to get back into the game, it was a six-point swing that, for the Knights, ultimately was insurmountable.

“A huge impact,” is how La Salle coach Karen Graham described the sequence. “That was a crucial turnaround.

“It was deflating.”

The other half of the losing equation for the Knights was their poor foul shooting.

The game was reminiscent of international hockey many years ago, when Canadian players would emerge from games bruised and bloodied by subtle fouls their European opponents would commit under the officials’ radar. The Canadians would subsequently be chastised for retaliatory fouls that were somewhat less subtle.

For instance, when Nick Ackley set a pick with his elbow on the chin of a taller opponent, or Thomas Peirson sent another into the wall under the basket when a simple whack on the forearm might have sufficed to prevent the shot, they earned a cautionary visit from an official.

Such fouls were somehow less offensive when viewed beside the scratched arms and bloody noses with which their teammates finished the extremely rambunctious game.

La Salle paid doubly for the rough going. Not only was a physical price exacted, the Knights failed to capitalize on the opportunities those Ascension fouls presented. It was bad enough the Knights scored on just 47 per cent of their shots, they were 0-for-3 on bonus shots, forfeiting three additional attempts as well.

Disheartening as they may have been on their own, more painful was the fact that while La Salle was missing its free throws, Ascension was scoring 26 points from the foul line, 19 in the fourth quarter alone, when La Salle couldn’t catch up even though Ascension scored just one field goal in the entire period.

It may have been coincidence, but it was also somehow instructive, that the dozen more points the Eagles got from their foul shooting exactly matched their margin of victory.

“That hurts a lot,” Graham said.

La Salle, which finished the year 35-6, will perhaps one day soon feel good about the way they reversed their fortunes in the first half, which began beyond badly. The Knights withered under Ascension’s pressure defence at the outset and they were getting soundly beaten under the glass. The 19 points the Eagles scored in the first four minutes of the game would have translated into 152 points had it been sustained for its entirety. A rout appeared imminent.

After such a frightening start, however, the Knights got their feet under them and actually played the tournament’s second-seeded team even the rest of the way.

“The first quarter we weren’t adjusting all,” Graham said. “By the second quarter we were getting it and starting to outplay them and then it just caught up to us, that level of contact. It was a dogfight. There was no finesse in that at all.

“I was proud of my guys,” she continued. “They played their hearts out. They played as well as they could under the circumstance. That was one tough team to play, very athletic.”

Among the opponents her team has faced this year, Graham said Ascension was “up there, for sure,” in calibre. “They certainly have better athletes.”

Burns finished the game with seven three-point baskets, giving him 13 for the two games La Salle played Tuesday. He was the team’s high scorer with 23 points, followed by Jesse Graham, who scored 18.

Michael Kayere scored 23 points and Thomas 19 for Ascension, which is bound for a semifinal Wednesday against third-seeded St. Francis of St. Catharines.

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