FREDERICTON, N.B. — To call the first three games out of the break important for the St. Thomas Tommies would be an understatement.
The Tommies enter the 2019 calendar year on a modest two-game winning streak to get some momentum at their backs after a dismal start to the season. Seven straight losses saw St. Thomas slide to the bottom of the standings in the ACAA. Injuries played into their results to an extent and they found themselves on the wrong side of some close contests over the course of the first semester to finish at 2-7.
Not to sound like a broken record, but it’s not how you start but how you finish. The Tommies closed out the first semester with a pair of impressive wins to build some much-needed momentum, and they have their sights set on continuing their streak into the second half of the 2018-19 season.
When you talk to some of the players, you’d never know that they had a seven-game losing streak at the start of the season. We caught up with third-year guard Arthur ‘Ace’ Reece over the holiday break to discuss the outlook for the team in the second half of the season, and one word would accurately sum up how he feels about the Tommies heading into 2019.
“After getting those it really boosted us because now we know how to win and close out games,” said Reece, referencing the team’s two wins to close out the semester and put an end to their losing streak.
“As a team we always knew we were better than our record.”
The Tommies struggled out of the gates. Their first five games of the season were double-digit losses, two of which came on their home court. Despite having their losing streak extended to seven games, their final two losses came by single-digit margins and could have easily gone in their favour at the end. A five-point loss at home against the UKC Blue Devils and an overtime loss to the Crandall Chargers capped off their rough start to their season, but the Tommies looked as though they had turned a corner given the closeness of the final scores.
“The message from our staff was that we are almost there,” continued Reece. “The thing that we needed to do was focus on defense and boxing out because we have many different guys who can go off at any given night.”
“So, in practice, all we did was defense and we locked in and took in what coach was saying as a team and it showed in the last two games.”
In their final two games of 2018, the offense found its groove and guys went off on both nights to help secure a pair of wins.
St. Thomas opened the month of December with a 95-67 win over the visiting Dalhousie AC Rams. Five players reached double-figures in the win, led by a triple-double from Almin Dervisevic. He went for 15 points, 16 rebounds, and 13 assists in the win. Reece (10 points), Michael Otoo (20 points), and Geoffrey Lavoie (15 points) all reached double-figures in the starting lineup while Omer Hassan came off the bench to record a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds.
From there, the Tommies followed things up with an 82-66 win over the Crandall Chargers, who were ranked 15th at the time in the CCAA. Again, a balanced offense carried the Tommies to the win as each member of the starting five scored at least 13 points in the win.
It may only be two wins, but the Tommies seem to have found their groove on both ends of the court. Their offense is balanced and several different names are contributing on a nightly basis, while whatever they worked on in practice on the defensive end of the floor has been paying off.
After a lengthy break, the Tommies come into the New Year with the ball in their court. Literally. Their first three games are all at home, giving them a perfect opportunity to continue their forward momentum and continue to climb in the ACAA standings. To say it’s a big opportunity for the team would be an understatement, and it will take a team effort to pick up wins.
“We feel that right away, these are winnable and must win games for that matter,” added Reece. “We’re at home which is good, so we have to protect our house like coach always says.”
“We all have to come in ahead of schedule because if we aren’t we could knock ourselves out of the playoff hunt really fast, so it’s very important we get these three home games right away.”
Over the course of the first semester, several members of the Tommies picked up individual accolades for their performances in games from us here at CCR Canada as well as the ACAA itself. One of those players is Otoo, a fourth-year guard from Ottawa, ON who has brought a wealth of experience and talent to the mix this season for St. Thomas after transferring from the Mount Allison Mounties.
Reece was quick to compliment Otoo for his talents on the court and what he brings to the team on a nightly basis.
“Just to have him on the court with me is exciting because I know when I come down on a fast break and hit him in his shooting pocket, most likely the shot is going in,” continued Reece. “We feed off of each other and that makes it tough on a lot of teams because if one gets going then you stop him, you have to worry about the other guy and stopping him.”
“I think he’s one of the best shooters I’ve ever played with.”
Through the first half of the season, the Tommies have seven players who are averaging 9.8 points per game or more, showcasing the depth they have and reiterating Reece’s point that anyone can go off on any given night and lead the team to a victory. Their balance on offense gives the coaching staff an extra level of confidence that they can turn to different players for a basket when times get tough or in a close game down the stretch.
After starting the season with seven straight losses, many likely wrote off the Tommies in the race for the ACAA title with their backs against the wall. They have some space now with their two wins to close the fall term, but they still face an uphill battle as they look to continue their ascent from the basement in the standings.
Still, the team maintains a heightened level of confidence that they can continue their turnaround and get back into the playoff picture to make a run at the league title.
However, if you’ve doubted them before, know that there isn’t any room on the bandwagon.
“We aren’t worried about anything the doubters has to say,” concluded Reece. “don’t jump on the bandwagon when we make more noise.”
– T. Bennett