By Larry Moko
A nightmarish first quarter turned into a dream finish for the host St. Thomas More Knights.
The Knights, who were outscored 18-3 in the opening quarter, fought back to defeat Sarnia’s Northern Vikings 61-58 in the championship game of the 39th-annual Chancellor Invitational boys’ high school basketball tournament Saturday.
The final went into double overtime before Diar Alkady of the Knights sank both of his free throws with 5.4 seconds left to cap the scoring.
It was More’s first Chancellor title since 2007.
“We came out extremely sluggish,” More coach Mark Moretuzzo said. “That’s not how we’ve started all year. We just weren’t working hard enough.”
The Vikings strung together 18 unanswered points after Alkady’s three-point play at the outset. And when the Knights went into the dressing room at the intermission trailing 29-21, they discussed what needed to be done.
“We knew we had to pick up the pace because we play better at a faster pace,” said Alkady, who tossed in 24 points and was selected the tournament MVP. “We were letting them take control of the game.
“Once we played at our tempo, we started to make a comeback.”
First-team all-star selection Efosa Omorogbe added 16 points while Jake Simpson chipped in with six.
Jojo Lingisi, Jonah Fournier, Evan Sikma, Tyrell Jones and Michael Chris-Ike also shared in the scoring for the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league squad.
It was the third overtime victory in three days for More (wins over the Bishop Ryan Celtics, London’s Pope John Paul II and Northern). Said Moretuzzo: “Maybe with that experience under our belt we were able to come through when it mattered. It’s been a lot of basketball.”
Moretuzzo praised his second unit’s performance in giving the team a lift when it started applying pressure on defence. And he admitted that Northern’s failure to connect on most of its foul-shot opportunities in the late stages was also a key factor.
The Knights turned the tables on the Vikings in the fourth quarter, outscoring them 16-2.
“We just had that never-quit attitude,” Moretuzzo said. “We crawled back and crawled back. We told the kids on the bench that we’ve been down 8-10 points before in the fourth quarter and that we would find a way.”
Moretuzzo also praised the performance of Alkady, who saw limited playing time in the first half due to a misunderstanding at the scorer’s table about the number of fouls he had received. Alkady, a shooting guard/forward, felt he had to come out “extra aggressive” in the second half because of his absence for most of the first and second quarters.
“Diar is a great player,” the More coach said of the third-year senior who joined the team in Grade 10. “He’s really worked hard at becoming more than just a shooter. That was more of his thing coming into high school. He has become a complete player by working on his body and working on his defence. I could see him playing at the next level.”
Said Alkady: “I’m learning to play inside and out. My coaches are helping me with that. The last two years I was more of an outside shooter.”
The consolation championship went to the St. Benedict Saints of Cambridge, who topped the St. Paul Saints of Niagara Falls, 57-47.
Another HWCAA team – the Bishop Tonnos Titans – topped the Pope John Paul II Jaguars, 65-43 Saturday, to finish the eight-team, two-day tournament with a record of 2-1. Liam Craven was the top scorer for Tonnos with 17 points.
Source: Marnie Jadon