Defense! Defense! Defense!
That’s the secret to the success of the Cardinal Newman Cardinals senior boys’ high school basketball team.
Newman defenders used an aggressive in-your-face-style to defeat the visiting Nelson Lords of Burlington, 59-51, on Monday (Feb. 24) for the Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference Quad A championship. The three-time defending Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association champions will advance to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations tournament March 3-5 in Mississauga.
“People love how we play defense,” said guard Tyler Brown of the Cardinals. “They love the energy and intensity we bring to the court. We play really aggressively. We try to get right up to their shorts … close, tight, defence.
“And it’s the whole defence. Not just one-on-one.”
All the players on the Newman bench were enthusiastically clapping and cheering on their team’s starters from the outset. And the Cardinals responded, building an 18-point lead by the final minute of the third quarter.
The previously unbeaten Lords fought back, however. A three-point basket by Stefan Duric sliced Newman’s lead to just three points (54-51) with 41 seconds remaining.
The final five points for the Cardinals came by way of free throws – two by Markus Zeba, one by Manashe Muneka and two by Marko Grahovac.
“I guess we didn’t close out like we should have,” Brown said. “We had a big lead, thinking the game was over. But we kept our composure and pulled out the W.”
Brown led all scorers with 20 points – most on dribble drives to the basket. His backcourt mate, David McCulloch, added 16 and Grahovac had 11.
For the Lords, Dante Duncan drained three, three-point baskets in the fourth quarter to finish with 12 points. Filip Vujadinovic also netted 12 and Duric contributed 11. Grade 11 guard Jordan Sobot, who scored 27 points in last week’s Halton final victory over the Holy Trinity Titans, was held to seven points.
“Their game plan obviously was to bang Jordan and double and triple team Filip,” Nelson coach Bob Stacey said. “I give them credit. Down the stretch they made their free throws.”
Count Stacey as another fan of the Newman defence.
“I love their defence,” he said. “It’s swarming. But they are more a football body than we are. They are more physical bodies. Right from the beginning they overplayed us.”
Stacey called the play of McCulloch “pretty special.” The veteran Nelson coach pointed out that McCulloch and Vujadinovic were guarding each other and they potentially could be university teammates next season in Ottawa. Both have been recruited by the powerful Carleton Ravens.
Newman coach Andrew Sergi was pleased with the way his team defended for a good portion of the game.
“I really like the way we started,” Sergi said. “We came out with great intensity at both ends. We did a really good job of knowing their personnel and knowing who to try and stop.
“Tyler Brown is a great on-ball defender. We liked the matchup with him.”
According to Sergi, Nelson features several elite players and the Lords showed resiliency along the way.
“We beat a quality opponent,” Sergi said. “It’s sweet. They were undefeated. They could have folded when we got up by 18.
“We knew what was on the line. The loser would be done. The finality drove us on. It’s a shame both of us aren’t going to OFSAA.”
For Newman, it’s the first GHAC championship victory in senior boys’ basketball. “That’s something we’ve got to be proud of,” Sergi said. “It’s definitely an achievement. And I think it’s something we can build on going into OFSAA. I’m excited.”
Newman, defending bronze medallists at OFSAA, doesn’t expect to get a high seed for this year’s provincial showcase event. That could make winning more difficult.
The Holy Trinity Titans defeated Newman for the GHAC title last year but both teams were able to advance when the public board’s participation was limited.
The Cardinals won’t be the only Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic league basketball team competing for a provincial high school championship next month. They’ll be joined by the St. Mary Crusaders. St. Mary pulled away in the third quarter to defeat the St. Roch Ravens, 70-55, on Monday in Brampton. As a result, the Crusaders punch their ticket to the OFSAA Triple A event March 3-5 in Welland.