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LANGLEY — Re-invention can often times be a lengthy process.
Yet when huge doses of youthful self-belief are thrown into the mix, miraculous things can seemingly happen overnight.
On Saturday, just over a week after having their lunch handed them in a decisive 29-point loss at the hands of the Burnaby South Rebels, Surrey’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers drove that point home by holding off B.C.’s No. 1-ranked, defending champs 82-77 in the Tsumura Basketball Invitational senior boys championship final at the Langley Events Centre.
“They had really taken it to us and we were feeling sorry for ourselves, licking our wounds,” said Lord Tweedsmuir head coach Drew Gallacher of an 85-56 loss to Burnaby South two Fridays ago in the semifinals of the Kodiak Classic in Port Moody. “We’ve just had to regroup with baby steps ever since, and today was a real character win for us.”
The Panthers had lost their emotional leader in senior guard Patrick Jonas to a season-ending knee injury, and they followed that loss to the Rebels the next day with a gruesome 32-point loss in the Kodiaks’ bronze final to the Terry Fox Ravens.
So heading into the week just passed, you had to search high and low for any kind of serious forward momentum as Lord Tweedsmuir prepared to enter the elite, 16-team TBI field on Thursday.
After consecutive wins over Heritage Woods, AAA No. 1 North Delta, and AAAA No. 3 Holy Cross, however, each win more convincing than the previous, they were a team ready to make a province-wide statement.
Yet Saturday’s final was about as evenly-contested as you could imagine over a drum-tight fourth quarter, with nine lead changes and two ties.
The Panthers’ 6-foot-6 Grade 11 forward Jackson Corneil, who played a huge role in trying to neutralize Burnaby South’s 6-foot-8 Aidan Wilson, played through the contact to make a lay-in and earn an and-one opportunity to pull his team within a point at 63-62 with 6:51 remaining.
Although Corneil missed from the free-throw line, teammate Jaden Reid put home the rebound. When Corneil completed a three-point play 48 seconds after his first attempt, the Panthers had pushed their lead to 68-63 with 6:03 left.
The championship-savvy Rebels, however, never backed down, and senior guard Baltej Sohal evened the score when he hit a triple, then was later fouled and hit both free throws with 5:19 left.
From that stage, the lead changed hands on virtually every basket for a 3:40 stretch.
Tweedsmuir got three buckets a row from guard Elijah Devison and a trey from guard Alex Le.
Meanwhile the Rebels got another three-pointer from Sohal, back-to-back lay-ins from guard Justin Sunga, and a lay-in off a steal by swingman Jiordano Khan, the latter pulling Burnaby South within 79-77 with 43.8 seconds remaining.
The finishing touches, however, came courtesy of the Panthers’ heart-and-soul senior leader Arjun Samra who hit three of four free throws over the final minute to make the 82-77 win complete.
“It means a lot, especially after all the hard stuff at the last tournament, that me and my teammates were able to bring it all together” said Samra, who finished with a team-high 25 points and was named TBI 2018’s Most Valuable Player. “This gives us a lot of confidence.”
Samra never left the floor Saturday, scoring when he needed to, but most of all, just galvanizing a deep roster of players who also played huge roles.
“I have known that boy since he was in Grade 3, and he has completed 300 hours of service for his school, and he’s a 94 per cent in senior academics,” said Gallacher. “And as you can see, he is also one of the best players in the province.”
Gallacher had stated after Friday’s comfortable semifinal win over Holy Cross that his team did not match up well against the Rebels because of the size advantage they had in the post with Wilson.
He tabbed the young Corneil for duty, and although Wilson still scored 13 points, Corneil did everything that was asked of him in terms of not allowing easy paint points.
“(Corneil) played fantastic and we had a game plan where we were sending doubles from different parts of the floor trying to confuse them and at the start of the game and I thought we were very successful with that,” began Gallacher.
“They made some adjustments and then they did well down low, but (Wilson) was in foul trouble, and I thought that made a difference.”
Devison finished with 16 points, Austin Swedish 12 points and Le eight.
Sohal was a difference-maker in the second half and also finished with a team-high 25 points for Burnaby South. Khan added 20, and Sunga a further 13.
Rebels head coach Mike Bell had seen his team need a solid fourth quarter to shake off Centennial in an opening round victory, and clutch 11th-hour treys from Sunga to squeak by both quarterfinal and semifinals wins respectively over Oak Bay and Terry Fox, the latter in overtime.
After Saturday’s loss, he addressed the fact that his team may have been due for defeat.
“It was bound to happen at this tournament,” Bell said. “You could see it, each game we fought back in the last minute to survive, so you knew someone was going to bring a game good enough to really shut us down.
“But we fought down the stretch,” he continued. “It’s a learning curve, and you can learn more when you lose than when you win, so this isn’t a bad moment for us.”
In the bronze final, Terry Fox got a huge effort from guards Jaden DeLeon and Ko Takahashi to beat an injury-riddled group of Holy Cross Crusaders 93-65.
“Our practices have been hard and we have developed a really strong chemistry on and off the court,” said the Grade 12 DeLeon, who joined the Ravens this season after formerly playing in the 10th grade for Burnaby South. “Today was a big step to show how far has program has come.”
In other placing games:
5th-6th Oak Bay 93 Kelowna 65
7th-8th Byrne Creek 76 North Delta 52
9th-10th Sir Charles Tupper 95 Heritage Woods 80
11th-12th G.W. Graham 88 Rick Hansen 51
13th-14th W.J. Mouat 86 Belmont 76
15th-16th R.A. McMath 76 Centennial 69
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