SURREY — It was the smallest guy on the floor who made the biggest impression on the head coach of Seattle’s defending Triple A state champion Garfield Bulldogs.
“Man, he’s got the heart of a lion,” JayVon Nickens said Saturday night when asked about just how many bodies his time-honoured Metro League program had to dedicate just to slow Norben Bulosan, the 5-foot-5 senior ball-handling wizard with East Vancouver’s Sir Charles Tupper Tigers.
No need to build the suspense here.
Garfield recorded a 97-71 win over Tupper to capture first place at the fourth annual Tamanawis Wildcats holiday tournament.
Yet it wasn’t without a determined come-from-behind effort that the Bulldogs got the job done.
In fact after its 101-68 semifinal win over defending B.C. champ and Quad A-co. No. 1 Burnaby South on Friday, you could be excused for thinking that Tupper was nothing more than an early supper for Garfield as the two teams tipped off at 4 p.m.
Yet with the tiny Bulosan leading the way, it was the Tigers who set the early tone, taking a 2-0 lead and never surrendering their advantage until a Caleb Anglin lay-in four minutes before the break gave the visitors their first lead at 35-34.
“He played really well,” continued Nickens of Bulosan, who scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the opening quarter. “I thought he had great IQ and great poise. He knows the game very well. He got to his spots and he made a lot of shots. Unfortunately for him, he ran out of gas towards the end. I’ve got 15 players and I was throwing anything and everything at him, but he just kept on fighting.”
The sight of the compact Bulosan challenging the entire Garfield team with his metronomic crossover dribble, then driving straight at the heart of their defence, and scoring with an unblockable, finesse-laden floater was equal parts gutsy and hilarious.
Bulosan was so assured with his dribble and so ready to put his low centre of gravity to work that Garfield defenders got flat-footed on more than a few occasions.
And before he suffered a debilitating Charley Horse late in the game, he had hit four treys and gone four-for-four from the stripe. Bulosan was in such pain that he was carried off the floor and later, was unable to walk up and accept the team’s second-place trophy.
Nickens was asked, tongue-in-cheek, what he would do if Bulosan showed up at one of his team’s open gyms.
“Oh, he’s definitely getting picked up,” Nickens said with respect. “Absolutely. He’s definitely getting picked up.”
Of course, Garfield’s depth and athleticism ultimately proved too much for the Tigers.
“This wasn’t a bad loss, this was a great learning experience,” said Tupper head coach Jeff Gourley, whose B.C. No -3-ranked AAA team, one night after knocking off No. 7 AAAA tourney host Tamanawis, likely played what was their best first-half of the season against Garfield.
“We’re happy,” continued Gourley, whose team also got 15 points and a ton of great emotion from senior forward Joven Dhillon, and 14 more from tourney all-star Simon Crossfield. “Take away the mental errors and eliminate the turnovers, and we did some very good things against as outrageously athletic team.”
The Bulldogs were led by three of their upper-classmen.
Grade 12 and tourney MVP Micah Jessie scored a team-high 18 points, while senior Caleb Anglin and Grade 11 Vetrevion Garner added 11 points each.
“We told our team that honestly, none of (the Garfield players) were being recruited by Duke,” said Gourley. “They are high school players just like our guys, so they needed to go out and play their game.
“The one thing we were concerned with was their press, but I thought we did a spectacular job against it.”
After Bulosan helped break it on one occasion, he completed a three-point play from the stripe with 1:31 left in the first quarter for a 23-16 lead.
Then, with about 10 seconds remaining in the opening frame, he froze a pair of Bulldogs’ defenders with his handle, before playing a perfect carom off a crazy angle in close for a 29-23 Tupper lead.
Crossfield took a Bulosan feed and dropped a triple for a 34-27 lead 3:48 into the second quarter. And with five seconds remaining in the half, Bulosan counted seven bounces on his yo-yo crossover before hitting a fading bucket from about 14 feet with five seconds left in the half to pull his team to within 45-41 at intermission.
“But it was the third quarter that killed us,” admitted Gourley.
Tupper scored the first hoop of the second half to pull within 45-43, but then Garfield went on a 23-9 run and never looked back.
BURNABY SOUTH 65 TAMANAWIS 60
The co-No. 1 Burnaby South Rebels got a huge push from the tourney host Wildcats in the third-place final.
It was a game that was tied 33-33 at halftime, and sat 52-48 in the Rebels favour after three quarters.
Burnaby South used a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter and led 59-48, but the Wildcats’ response was a 12-2 run that pulled them to within 61-60 over the late stages.
Preet Kailey hit the trey that pulled Tamanawis to within a point, yet South’s Jiordano Khan, who scored a game-high 26 points, was flawless from the line to preserve the win.
“We played much better today and we were much more aggressive rebounding the ball,” said Tamanawis head coach Mike McKay. “We’re close, but it is what it is. When we hit shots, like all teams, we’re really good. But on days when we don’t we have to find other ways.”
Baltej Sohal scored 14 points for Burnaby South, who lost senior post Aidan Wilson to an injury in the first half.
Jeevan Sidhu led the Wildcats with 21 points. Marc Pacatang added 16.
Garfield’s Koren Johnson, South’s Wilson, Tammy’s Sidhu, and Tupper’s Bulosan and Crossfield were all named to the tournament all-star team.
*In the fifth-place game, Surrey’s Fleetwood Park Dragons got 26 points from Rav Randhawa and 12 more from Amrit Bassi in a 66-53 win over Coquitlam’s Centennial Centaurs.
Terry Cho led the Centaurs in scoring for a second straight game with 20 points.
*In the seventh-place game, the Pitt Meadows Marauders beat North Delta’s Sands Scorpions 58-51.
Jackson Juriga scored 14 of his game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter en route to the win. Uda Walia’s 15 points led the Scorpions.
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