The last time the York Mills and Earl Haig boys basketball teams met, the game was decided by a buzzer-beating half-court heave to seal York Mills’ come-from-behind victory 50-49.
Although the Titans were unable to come back this time, they did manage to turn a potential blowout into a respectable season-opening loss.
However, without guards Alan Russell and Tre Eli, who led the Titans’ rally last time, it was clear that Haig State had the advantage early on.
“They were big,” said Matthew He, the Titan’s starting point guard. “They rebounded and we couldn’t get any boards. They just had second and third chance buckets.”
Through balanced scoring and dominant rebounding, especially by forward Jason Lyons, Haig State was able to take an early lead. Earl Haig’s coach Eric James said he was happy to see his team score twice as many points as York Mills in the first half. The scoreboard read 26-13 as both teams headed for the locker rooms.
“Probably the biggest thing in the first half, we out rebounded them by quite a large margin,” James said. “We weren’t hitting many of our putbacks but we got so many shots at the basket.”
The Titans dug themselves in deeper in the third quarter. Haig State started the third in a full-court press defence, causing turnover after turnover.
“The press helped but regardless of whether we pressed or not we still had the same opportunities in the first half we just missed them,” James said. “The second half we started hitting them.”
The visitors opened the second half on a 16-0 run until a series of emotional timeouts by Titans’ coach Daniel Kaye and a mid-range jumper by He stopped the bleeding at 42-15.
When James pulled his starters late in the third and switched from the full-court press to a half-court trap, Kaye countered by calling on his charges to apply full-court pressure themselves.
Despite being down 45-21 at the start of the fourth, the Titans’ press began forcing Haig State’s bench players to cough up the ball and He turned into a man on a mission.
After being down by more than 20 points the Titans crept to within 10 with just under 2 minutes to go. Repeatedly, He would drive straight down the lane for a floater or lay up, usually drawing a foul as well. He finished with a game-high 17 points in the 58-45 loss.
“I didn’t see anyone on the team helping so I figured I would just break my guy down and just try to go and get a quick basket, something to jump start the team,” He said. “It’s the season opener so I didn’t really want to end it on a sour note.”
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