Nothing beats getting off to a fast start.
The Muskies did just that in all three of their games—including in the final against the Hillcrest Colts (Thunder Bay)—to capture the inaugural Rendez-Vous Tip-Off here over the weekend.
The black-and-gold were firing on all cylinders Saturday night against Hillcrest en route to a narrow 52-49 win, jumping out to a commanding 22-10 lead after the first quarter and then 30-24 at halftime.
Although the Colts continued to eat away at the lead in the third quarter when the Muskie starters began to show signs of fatigue, strong shooting at the line in the fourth allowed the black-and-gold to ice the victory.
“We’ve told them the games often come down to foul shots, and we remind them at practice,” said Muskie co-coach Al McManaman. “We’d like them to make 80 or 90 percent of their [foul] shots.”
John Sivonen led the Muskies in the final with 16 points. Evan Woodland added 13 while Doug LaBelle netted eight.
“We really haven’t been in position where we’ve had to fight back [this year],” noted co-coach Paul Noonan. “We’ve been able to get out to fast starts and get rid of the jitters.”
Foul shots also were the key in their semi-final showdown Saturday morning against the Grant Park Pirates (Winnipeg). Trailing 50-49 with 1:04 to go, Woodland calmly drained two free throws to give the Muskies the lead for good.
Sivonen added a lay-up and Jamie Algie hit one of two of his free throws during the final seconds to make the final score 54-50.
The Muskies made nine of 11 free throws in the last half of the fourth quarter, including a 4-for-4 effort by Woodland.
Sivonen once again led the way with 24 points. Woodland added 12 and rookie Jock Gemmell, who played a strong game, chipped in 10.
The Muskies had led 17-12 at the end of the first quarter and 27-20 at halftime. But Grant Park, which went on to win the ‘B’ final with a 61-60 overtime win over Churchill (Thunder Bay), played much better in the third—hitting a couple of baskets from outside to tie the score at 36-36.
The Muskies opened the eight-team tournament Friday afternoon with a convincing 60-37 win over Thomas Aquinas (Kenora).
The game was all but over by the five-minute mark of the first quarter as the Muskies reeled off a 16-0 run before a packed house in the large gym.
They held a 20-point advantage (38-18) at halftime, and led by as much as 51-22 by the third.
Sivonen topped the Muskie scorers with 16 while Woodland added 14, Gemmell 12, and Roy Tighe 11.
But while the Muskies dominated at times in all three of their games, consistency was a problem when fatigue set in—resulting in several turnovers and poor decision making.
“We’ve been trying to use our time-outs. And by getting a six- or eight-point lead, it gives us a chance to rest our starters,” noted Noonan.
“We have a very shallow bench,” he admitted. “They’ve been working hard for us but we’re trying to get our players on a conditioning program working on the cardio.”
Sivonen, normally a shooting guard, also has been forced to bring the ball upcourt in the point guard position. Not only does that take up a lot of energy, it also takes him out of position to shoot from outside, where he can be dominant particularly from three-point land.
The coaches said they’ll be trying to get Woodland to bring the ball up the floor more, and also will hand that task to LaBelle—one of three seniors in the starting lineup.
Both players bring experience and the ability to drive the ball to the basket for lay-ups if an opening arises.