The Saints came marching into Rupert for the All Native Basketball Tournament, and are leaving as champions of the Seniors Division after a 76-64 win over Metlakatla AK in the final.
It was a sudden reversal of fortunes between the two sides; just 24 hours before it had been Metlakatla celebrating on the main court after a win over Skidegate sent them to the final. Skidegate was left with the task of defeating the #1 seed, and back to back champions, Kitkatla, for a chance at the title. The Haida side would do just that, giving them a chance to get back to the top of the podium as they pursued a seventh Senior title for the team.
|Metlakata’s Chris Bryant dribbles the ball against Skidegate’s Tyler York during Friday night’s semi-final. Metlakatla got the better of their opponents on that occasion, but the Saints would win the game that truly mattered the next evening. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
|Metlakatla’s Jason Enright catches some air – but Skidegate’s Tyler York was waiting to lay down a rejection during Friday night’s semi-final. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
Things didn’t look great early for Skidegate’s chances, with Metlakatla leading 19-16 after one and increasing the lead to 39-30 by halftime. Metlakatla’s Jase Scudero had dropped 15 points in the opening 20 minutes, including three three-pointers, as Skidegate again struggled to contain the Alaska side.
|Skidegate’s Jesse Barnes lines up a free throw during the Seniors Division final, while teammate Duane Alsop and Metlakatla’s Chris Bryant have a quick chat along the line. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
The Haida squad looked renewed in the third quarter however, particularly near the end. Having been unable to chip into the lead, and in fact letting things slip further to trail 56-45, Skidgate scored the final five points of the quarter to grab some momentum heading into the final 10 minutes. This would merely be the beginning of an explosive game changing run, continued when the Saints scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter to completely tilt the court. Highlights included an and-one conversion from Duane Alsop, a driving floater by Jesse Barnes, and a nifty catch and shoot in the air by Barnes to push the lead to 70-60 with under four minutes left in the game.
The Skidegate lead built to double digits as their run continued to 25-4, with the onslaught on offence and defence unrelenting until the final buzzer. The final tally showed the Saints go on a rampant 31-8 run after falling behind 11.
|This is the seventh Seniors Division trophy for the Skidegate Saints, and first since 2017. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
The title is the first for Skidegate since 2017, when the Saints dynasty claimed their sixth title in a row. Whether this current squad has what it takes to develop a new dynasty remains to be seen, but if they are able to retain the services of their star big man, and tournament MVP, Jesse Barnes, the team should be in good shape.
“It felt pretty good,” Barnes said after the game. “We would have enjoyed going undefeated this year, but just to even win is a blessing.”
“We started out pretty slow, we didn’t have the energy that we thought we were going to have heading into the game,” Barnes said of his team’s slow start. “But as the game went on we started to get a little more comfortable. Our coach Desi [Collinson] told us to start pushing the pace a little more. That’s how Skidegate usually plays. Once we got running and once we got comfortable we were fine.”
|Skidegate’s Jesse Barnes was named MVP of the tournament, an accolade he also took home last year when his Saints won the Intermediate Division. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
Barnes had a game high 24 points in the win, including 17 in the second half as the Saints roared back to turn the tides. The award makes Barnes a back to back MVP winner, as he claimed the honour during Skidegate’s win in the Intermediate Division last year.
“It’s a lot more physical,” Barnes said of the jump from Intermediate to Senior play. “There’s some bigger bodies. I feel like in this division there’s a lot more shooting and post play compared to the athletes that are down in the Intermediate Division. But I felt pretty good out there.”
“I’ve played in a lot of different places, and this is one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever played in. That’s why I wanted to come back here,” Barnes commented on the boisterous Haida support from the crowd.
|Skidegate’s Jesse Barnes dribbles along the sideline during Friday’s semi-final against Metlakatla AK. Barnes and the Saints fell in this one, but they would not be defeated twice by the Metlakatla squad, defeating them for the final the following day. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
Skidegate’s Duane Alsop was named Sixth Man of the tournament during the awards ceremony. Other winners included Kitkatla’s Jacob Thom as Mr. Hustle and Top Scorer, while Metlakatla’s Chris Bryant had his hands full after receiving Best Defensive, Most Outstanding and Most Inspirational Honours. Metlakatla was also named the Most Sportsmanlike team.
|Skidegate’s Duane Alsop won the Sixth Man award for his contributions off the bench. Alsop had eight points in the final, all coming in the fourth quarter as part of a massive Saints run to clinch the game. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
|Metlakatla’s Chris Bryant had all the hardware he could hold during the awards ceremony, taking home Best Defensive, Most Outstanding and Most Inspirational honours. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
|Metlakatla will be taking second place honours back to Alaska, as well as plenty of motivation to get that one more win next year. (Alex Kurial / Haida Gwaii Observer)|
Alex Kurial | Sports Reporter
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