LANGLEY — No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchups in high school basketball should never go quietly into the night.
Thankfully, the figurative basketball spirits left to inhabit Centre Court tonight at the Langley Events Centre following just such a contest in the semifinal round of the 2019 Tsumura Basketball Invitational must surely still be kicking up their heels after 40 minutes of such a beautiful fuss.
In the end, Kelowna’s Grade 11 guard Jarred Taylor stepped up to the free throw line, and with 3.4 seconds remaining, hit back-to-back free throws to give the No, 2 Kelowna Owls a 78-77 win over the No. 1 Burnaby South Rebels, and a berth in Saturday’s championship final against the No. 3 Centennial Centaurs.
All things being equal, the winner of that 8:30 p.m. contest should move into the No. 1 spot in the Varsity Letters Big 10 Quad-A rankings set for release this Wednesday.
“Coach always says to just stay calm and shoot our shot and just play our game and that’s what I did,” said Taylor, his innocence as genuine as it was refreshing. “I was confident. We shoot a lot of free throws in practice, so I wasn’t worried.”
Give the stakes, he might have been the only one in the house who wasn’t.
Coming one week after Burnaby South beat Kelowna in the semifinals of the Heritage Woods Kodiak Classic in Port Moody, Friday’s rematch — one marked by its massive shifts in momentum — proved just how much wiser and resilient two teams can become in just a week’s time.
Kelowna closed the first half on an 18-5 run capped by guard Malcolm Greggor’s near-buzzer-beating three for a 45-31 lead at intermission.
Yet there came the Rebels in the third quarter, pulling to within a point at 56-55 heading into the final frame, as Grade 11 guard Justin Sunga, and Grade 10 forward Karan Aujla dined on the Owls from both inside and out, combining to score 21 of the team’s 24 points.
Of course, in the grand tradition of the best marquee matchups, momentum was as fluid as the game’s fast-breaking nature.
Kelowna mounted a 15-3 run of its own to take a 76-63 lead with 2:26 left in the game, a run in which Taylor, the soon-to-be free-throw hero, hit a trio of three pointers, including two rattlers from the identical spot in the baseline corner.
“That is a Grade 11 kid stepping up when he needs to, and with our team you can pick your poison,” said Owls head coach Harry Parmar of his 10-deep rotation. “We never know who is going to get it done.”
Yet just when it looked like a cinch for the Owls, Burnaby South peeled off a 14-0 run of its own, the last six points coming off interior baskets from Aujla to give the Rebels a 77-76 lead with 3.4 seconds left.
Taylor was fouled, however, and made the winning shots before Braden White of the Owls blocked a game-winning three-point attempt by the Rebels at the buzzer.
“We started turning it over and just taking some quick shots and that led to transition, and that is a good squad,” Parmar said of Burnaby South and the genesis of its late-game 14-0 surge. “So it’s good that we didn’t let their heads down and made a nice stop at the end.”
Burnaby South head coach Mike Bell knew afterwards what a special game his team had been involved in, and was also keenly aware of the growth potential it provided his young team.
“It was impressive to watch a bunch of young kids go, all of them in (grades) 10 and 11,” said Bell. “We didn’t play one Grade 12 tonight. To watch them compete and battle and respond after a really sloppy first half, to see how we cleaned it up really well to make it a one-point game and then had the lead with 20 seconds left. You can’t ask for a better game. That is a great team, well-coached by Harry. They compete, they battle and if you give them any space, they’re going to hit their shots.”
Burnaby South was led by the 31 points of Sunga and the 27 of Aujla. Jareb Pineda had 10 points and Jimmy Zaborniak nine.
Guard Malcolm Greggor has developed a hot hand, and led the Owls with 23 points, with 19 more from Taylor, and 10 from Jayden Lalonde.
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