EXTRA! Gryphons Sink Voyageurs in Season Opener

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

A trio of almost consecutive three pointers by guard Jay Mott and forward Sebastian Kasiuk early in the second half propelled the Guelph Gryphons men’s basketball team to a veritable trashing (91-66) of the Laurentian Voyageurs in the Gryphs’ season opener. The win was loudly cheered on by a rowdy and delighted home crowd, which practically packed the Athletics Centre main gym for the game.

The Gryphs’ preseason had made them somewhat suspect. They only won one game, but they routinely faced superior out-of-conference and even NCAA competition, a schedule that Guelph coach Chris O’Rourke hoped would help take the team to the next level and improve last season’s OUA West second place finish. Most of the Gryphons’ losses were not pretty, which cast a mantle of doubt over the whole strategy, specially regarding playing competitive NCAA teams.

These doubts resurfaced early in the first half, when the Voyageurs took their aggressive game into Guelph's zone. Speedy guard Craig Baurlaugh led Laurentian with 11 points in the half, and forwards Matas Tirillis and Jason Brown pulled down offensive rebound after offensive rebound in Guelph's paint. Fortunately for the Gryphs, Laurentian's outside shooting was not up to par, and constant turnovers due to traveling and carrying helped keep the game a close affair, with very minor leads for either team.

Things started to pick up for Guelph later in the first half. OUA all-star forward JR Bailey, who had been having a tough time in his match-up with bruising Voyageur centre Shane Bertolacci, took his game out of the key, where Bertolacci looked distinctly uncomfortable, picking up four almost consecutive personal fouls in the process. Guelph turned the defence up a notch thanks to rotation forward Duncan Milne, who finished the game with eight rebounds and Guelph's lone steal, while Mott started to make some important clutch shots, revitalizing the Gryphons’ somewhat clogged offence.

This reaction didn’t last. Mott picked up his third foul before half-time, after two dubious calls and was promptly subbed off. Bailey completed a mediocre first half and ended up leading the game with a very unflattering nine turnovers, exactly half of Guelph's total. Burlaugh’s scoring and a timely trey by guard Lucas Wiebenga kept Laurentian within reach of the Gryphons, which led 35-32 at half-time.

With Guelph shooting under .400 from the field, O'Rourke must have had tough words for his team during the intermission - and it worked. The Gryphons came out of the locker room on a roll, with Bailey working his magic in the paint and Mott and Kasiuk battering the Voyageurs from beyond the three-point arc. Bertolacci committed his fifth and final foul early in the second half, forcing Laurentian coach Virgil Hill to often double-team a revived Bailey. This only led to another spatter of treys from Guelph guard Aron Bariagabre and Kasiuk, who at this stage was absolutely on fire.

On the other side of the court, Milne kept Laurentian’s forwards in check, while Baurlaugh fizzled after his promising first half, finishing the game with 4-for-14 from the field and only 3 points in the second half. The Voyageurs' offence and defence simultaneously disintegrated with 10 minutes to go and, after a Bailey hook shot, Guelph took a 68-49 lead and didn’t look back.

With Milne taking care of business in defence and chipping in some points until his fifth foul, the Gryphs let Bailey, Mott, Kasiuk and point guard Charles Agyemang run loose over the by now in-shambles Voyageurs. The lead increased little by little, as Laurentian gave up on the game and Guelph remained merciless from downtown. A couple of late-game offensive rebounding efforts and a trey by Guelph rotation guard Zack Nevar closed the final score at 91-66.

Kasiuk, who had gone unnoticed in the first half, led all scorers with 22 points and a whooping 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, all in a mere 17 minutes of play. He predictably got a standing ovation when he was subbed off in the final minutes of the game. Mott, Bailey, Agyemang and Milne also sported double figures. The Gryphons’ second half was nothing short of sensational, as they shot .625 from the field and an astounding 10-for-15 from three-point territory, combining for 56 points. While the Gryphs did show a few weak spots, most notably free-throw percentages and travelling-violation turnovers, O'Rourke will hope that his team can carry its sizzling second-half form into Sunday’s match-up with York.

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