Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Figuratively, the MacEwan Griffins framed their 59-point first half, put it up on the wall and admired it.
It truly was a thing of beauty – a romp to as much as a 33-point lead over the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies in Canada West men's basketball action on the backs of a sizzling 71 per cent shooting from the three-point line.
It was almost for naught.
The Huskies came roaring back, outscoring the Griffins 37-11 in the third quarter and getting within a single point early in the fourth before MacEwan picked up the slack and closed strong, hitting triple digits for the first time this season in a 101-83 triumph.
You may unbuckle your seatbelt now, dear fan.
"Basketball's a game of runs," said Ali Raza, who led the Griffins with 19 points, including six in a row late in the fourth quarter to restore a double-digit MacEwan lead. "We had a great start to the game and they came out in the second half firing and being the aggressors. At that point, it was just accepting the challenge. They're coming at us hard. What were we going to do?
"I think in the end there, we just did a good job of finishing plays."
Saskatchewan head coach Barry Rawlyk saw his team score just 26 first-half points on just 27 per cent shooting. He had a simple, likely vocal, message for his troops at half-time.
"Stop getting outworked," he said.
"We stood around and watched them play in the first half. We just had to come out and compete in the second half. You dig a hole that deep for yourself it's pretty tough to come back. I thought we ran out of gas the last five minutes of the game."
Lawrence Moore had 14 of his game-high 22 points in the third quarter for the Huskies and then hit a running three-pointer with 8:58 left in the fourth to pull Saskatchewan within one (70-69).
But the Griffins' defence stiffened and their resolve took over.
"We showed some character," said MacEwan head coach Eric Magdanz. "When things got tight and they battled back, we responded every time. That's a great attribute for our team to have.
"Now, we're going to go back and work on not putting ourselves in quite so tight of a spot next time."
Early on, it looked as if the Griffins would cruise to a blowout victory. Their shooting was as hot as you'll ever see in Canada West – 12 three-pointers on 17 attempts in the first half. That included two perfect long-range shooters: Dustin Gatzki (4-for-4) and Jake Notice (3-for-3).
"When we broke at the break, we looked at our stats and where we were and we recognized that our shooting percentage wasn't where we needed it to be," said Magdanz. "We challenged guys over the break to put shots up. I think we had the best of both worlds where those shots fell tonight at a higher rate than they're going to almost every night. But when you put the time in the gym, you have confidence and you're able to have some of those nights like we did."
Besides Raza, the Griffins had five other players in double-digits for points: Deonte Doslov-Doctor (14), Gatzki (14), Notice (14), Adonis Monfort-Palomino (11) and Atlas St. Paul-Butler (10).
Besides Moore, Saskatchewan got a double-double from Joseph Barker (18 points and 11 rebounds), 18 points from Alex Unruh, 14 from Addison Dewar off the bench and 11 from Emmanuel Akintunde. But they just weren't good enough in the first 20 minutes.
"We were taking ourselves out of position early," said Rawlyk. "We weren't very sharp defensively and to their credit they exploited that. They hit some shots. I give them credit. They really shot the ball well. I'm not taking anything away from the Griffins. They deserved to win tonight. We just have to be better tomorrow."
With the result, MacEwan improves to 3-8, while Saskatchewan falls to 2-9. They'll meet again on Saturday (7 p.m., Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).