LANGLEY — It arrived as intended, as a stern message from the heavens to go quietly into the night, to abandon what now appeared to be a futile quest to win their school’s first-ever B.C. senior boys basketball championship.
It arrived with precisely 2:15 remaining in the third quarter of Saturday night’s provincial Quad-A final at the Langley Events Centre: a three-point bucket hoisted by the Kelowna Owls’ guard Hunter Simson which dropped through iron and nylon mesh like a proverbial dagger to the heart.
Woozy, staggering and trailing 76-58, Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers looked to be done.
But that’s when Tweedsmuir head coach Drew Gallacher realized that it was time to follow the advice he had gotten the night before from one of the greatest coaches in B.C. high school basketball history.
“Last night, Rich Goulet texted me,” Gallacher said of the former longtime St. Thomas More and Pitt Meadows head coach who has won five B.C. senior boys varsity titles and this season served as a consultant/assistant with Port Moody’s Heritage Woods Kodiaks. “I asked him ‘Hey Rich, what would you do (to beat Kelowna) and he said ‘Go to a diamond-and-one.’
“I just thought that when (Simson) hit that one bomb and we couldn’t stop them, it was time to go into it. I wanted to do it in the second half so that (Kelowna) wouldn’t have time at halftime to adjust. But to be honest, at that point (trailing by 18 points) I was just grasping at straws. I didn’t think it would work that fast.”
But it did.
What ultimately transpired was nothing shy of the greatest comeback win in the history of B.C. senior boys basketball’s top-tiered championship final game.
Literally from the moment the switch was made to the new junk defence, one which asked Tweedsmuir’s top defender to shadow Kelowna’s best offensive player while the remaining four defenders maintained a diamond pattern following zone principles, the flow off the game was completely reversed.
Lord Tweedsmuir went on a 25-0 run between the third and fourth quarters, a run so spectacular in its speed and breadth that it rocked the Owls like a hurricane.
Final score: Lord Tweedmuir 91 Kelowna 86.
UNFOLDING BEFORE OUR EYES
Sometimes the basketball gods reward you with lifetime memories, and while it will remain forever paramount that we acknowledge those moments as being first reserved for the players and coaches who make the season-long sacrifice just to try to qualify for the provincial tournament, sometimes a reporter/broadcaster can get a little lucky, too.
And in my role as a storyteller from Saturday evening’s game, that’s the way I felt.
As the game’s play-by-play broadcaster, I have had the ongoing good fortune of teaming with the man I consider our province’s best basketball colour analyst: Langara men’s head coach Paul Eberhardt.
In the midst of the Lord Tweedsmuir comeback, as I described the play for the LEC’s live stream broadcast of the game, all the while furiously scribbling notes on every play, Eberhardt and I began to tally the damage.
As close as I can remember, it was right around the time that Tweedsmuir’s Grade 11 forward Jackson Corneil scored off a lay-in with 7:01 remaining for a 79-76 Panthers lead that I pegged the run their run at 19-0.
To paraphrase Eberhardt: “Well, right now, that would be a new tournament comeback record. I know because we had the record at 17 points.”
What Eberhardt was referring to was the very first top-tiered B.C. senior boys championship final played at the Langley Events Centre: R.C. Palmer’s 71-63 win over Vancouver College back in 2011.
Eberhardt has a pretty intimate remembrance of that game because that night, he was the guy coaching Palmer to the B.C. title.
In that game, the Irish opened on a 19-2 run, and all hope seemed lost for the Richmond team.
Yet it was impossible to forget how Eberhardt subbed in a Grade 10 kid named Jamie Madewan, who immediately stroked three consecutive three-pointers to stoke an uprising which eventually led to a comeback from 17 points down to the B.C. title.
And as I continued to watch Lord Tweedsmuir rally, the similarities continued to astound.
(JUNK) DEFENCE REALLY DOES LEAD TO OFFENCE
In one of Friday’s two semifinal games, Owls’ senior guard Parker Johnstone put the rest of his team on his figurative back, scoring 37 points and leading them into Saturday’s finale behind a 74-67 upset win over the Terry Fox Ravens.
In the final, he already had 25 points by the midway mark of the third quarter, and thus when Gallacher elected to follow Goulet’s advice and implement the diamond-and-one defence, he targeted Johnstone as the main culprit.
But who to put on him?
“Coach thinks I am the best defensive player on the team so he wants me to lock down players all the time,” Tweedsmuir’s 6-foot-1 senior guard Alex Le said after the game. “So I do my best to keep the player in front of me and not let him score.”
And while it was hard to imagine anyone fully anticipating how quickly the script would flip, the player later selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player didn’t have doubts.
“I knew it would kick in that quickly because I knew Alex was the one guarding Johnstone,” said dynamic senior guard Arjun Samra. “I knew he would do a job on him. He is really quick and he has always been our best defender. Coach just said we’re going diamond-and-one, and he said ‘Alex, you’re guarding Parker.’”
Documenting the run itself is like telling the story-inside-the-story of the Tweedsmuir team.
There’s the uber-gifted Grade 11 forward Jackson Corneil, whose strength, length and dexterity allowed him to score 11 of the run’s 25 points on his way to a team-high 23.
There’s Samra, who hit a key three-pointer with 4:31 left to pull Tweedy within a point at 76-75 and extend the run to 17-0.
And gritty reserve guard Josh Hamulas who gave his team its first lead of the game at 77-76 when he stole the ball and scored a lay-up with 7:39 left.
Those are the final 16 points of the run. But the first nine?
Remember our reference to Madewan and those three straight triples he drained to kick-start the R.C. Palmer rally from 17 points down eight years ago?
On Saturday, that very same offensive role was filled by the quiet, humble Le.
Following the Simson trey which forced the defensive switch, Le came out of the time-out with his defensive marching orders.
Yet what he discovered within that new job description were a plethora of jump-shooting opportunities from beyond the arc’s baseline corners.
Le, in fact, closed out the quarter by hitting three consecutive three-pointers over a span of 1:09, the third coming with 54 seconds remaining and pulling Lord Tweedsmuir to within 76-67 at the end of the third quarter.
“We got some good steals and we started going on a run,” said Le when asked specifically if the switch to the junk defence led to his barrage of buckets. “Everyone kept running out and getting to the lanes quicker. We just had the confidence to shoot it that we didn’t have in the first half.”
AN OWLS’ NEST VIEW
It was back on January 10 when the Panthers and Owls last met.
That day, in the opening round of the Terry Fox Legal Beagle invitational in Port Coquitlam, the Owls gained what would be their signature win of the regular season.
Sitting at No. 9 in the Varsity Letters’ Big 10 rankings, they upset then-No. 1 ranked Lord Tweedsmuir 107-84 in what went down as one of the best displays of team three-point shooting we saw this season.
The Owls hit 24 three-pointers in the win (24-of-46) and when I talked with Kelowna head coach Harry Parmar after the game, he told me “…we go into a game expecting to hit at least 15 threes.”
In Saturday’s title game, the Owls hit 14, yet after building that 18-point lead late in the third quarter, Parmar didn’t hang the downfall strictly on the diamond-and-one.
Instead, he correctly sourced a number of other factors which all collided and produced a game-defining storm front.
“The diamond-and-one wouldn’t have mattered if we got stops because we would have gotten out in transition,” said Parmar, whose team is built on its high-tempo decision-making and athleticism at both ends of court. “But we stopped getting stops, and we are a young team. We missed a few shots, the other team hit a few shots, we’re young, then we turned it over a few times, and then we were the deer in the headlights. At that stage, it actually got to them and we stopped playing defence.”
ONE FOR THE AGES
It’s no stretch to say that sudden nature of the change in momentum in Saturday’s game makes it a modern-era classic, right up there with St. George’s 2009, Terry Fox 2012 and Yale 2015 as among the most entertaining of the past 20 years.
“For me personally, it’s been unreal,” said the Grade 11 Corneil, who was later picked the Player of the Game. “Going from losing in the finals in Grade 9, losing in the finals last year at junior, to finally winning it is unreal.”
For Samra, who was also picked the MVP this past December of the Tsumura Basketball Invitational, being named the B.C. Quad-A MVP was just as surreal as the being on the floor during the epic comeback.
“It feels great because it feels like a lifelong amount of work is all coming to the surfac,” he said of being recognized as tourney MVP. “I have finally been able to show everybody what I can do, and that is a blessing.”
Saturday’s game was so utterly unique and unfolded so organically that it didn’t feel like the second-highest scoring final in the tournament’s 75-year history, which it was.
Its 177 points were two shy of equalling the 179 points scored in 1988 when the Richmond Colts defeated the Seaquam Seahawks 99-80.
Lord Tweedsmuir, which fell behind 22-2 to open its quarterfinal game on Thursday against No. 1 seed Holy Cross, but amazingly rallied to win 79-69, was so unflappable over these past four days of competition that it’s hard not to call them a team of destiny.
“That’s what I was telling my team, that this is our destiny,” Samra said softly after the win. “But just because it’s our destiny, doesn’t mean it’s going to be given to us. You’ve still got to go out and take it.”
And so they did by acting on a text from a coaching legend which led to the greatest top-tiered comeback in B.C. boys high school basketball championship history.
How ‘bout them apples?
“It was just a feeling that was unexplainable,” Samra concluded of the force he felt on the floor during the comeback. “It’s just something that makes you feel alive, makes you feel like you’re on top of the world.”
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