In front of more than 4,000 people at the Langley Events Centre Saturday night, Cloverdale’s Lord Tweedsmuir Panthers pulled off a comeback for the ages.
The senior boys hoops team – which entered the tournament as the No. 9 seed – erased an 18-point second-half deficit to edge the No. 9-ranked Kelowna Owls 91-86 in the final game of the B.C. Senior Boys 4A Basketball Championships.
Lord Tweedsmuir head coach Drew Gallacher was teary-eyed following the win.
“These boys were identified in Grade 6 and ever since then, they have stayed together. They come into my classroom every day at lunch,” he said. “This is such a family to me. The parents have supported me unconditionally and they have been so incredible throughout the whole entire journey.”
After trailing for all but a minute or so through nearly three quarters of play, the Panthers – who spent time as both the province’s No. 1 team and also unranked altogether – went on a 25-0 run that started with an Alex Le bucket with 2:03 remaining in the third fame.
Tweedsmuir, which struggled at times against the Owls’ defence in the first half while also missing a few open shots, found their stride as the second half wore on, eventually opening up a seven-point lead. Kelowna pulled close in the game’s dying seconds after a back-to-back three-pointers, but the Cloverdale crew held on for the victory.
The Panthers scored 53 points in the second half, and the game overall tied a 31-year-old provincial championship record for offence, with 177 total points scored.
Tweedsmuir Grade 11 post Jackson Corneil led the offence with 23 points and 15 rebounds, despite playing much of the second half with four fouls, and Arjun Samra – fresh off a 35-point effort Friday night in the semifinals against Burnaby South – added 22.
Samra sat out the final few minutes of the first half after suffering a knee injury – on a play in which a foul was not called, much to the dismay of Gallacher, who let his feelings known to the game officials as Samra recovered and left the court. However, he returned to start the second half and was instrumental in the comeback.
His back-t0-back three-pointers gave the Panthers a 77-76 lead in the third, and he also hit a pair of free throws in the dying seconds to extend his team’s lead to five points.
Samra credited his coach for motivating them – not just during the game, but three weeks ago, after the Panthers had lost to the Holy Cross Crusaders on the same court in the Fraser Valley semifinals.
“Coach made us sit in the locker room and listen to Holy Cross cheer on the other side and he told us we are never going to feel this feeling ever again and we said ‘OK,’” said Samra, who was named tournament MVP.
And while the end result was Tweedsmuir’s first-ever provincial 4A boys hoops title – not to mention the school’s first-ever appearance in the big game – the beginning of the game was anything but smooth for the champs.
The first half was a fast-paced affair, with both teams trading baskets. But as the second quarter wore on, Kelowna – which trailed only briefly in the first quarter, and led by three by the end of the frame – picked up their defensive game, while Tweedsmuir missed a few open shots as well as four straight free throws.
The Owls continued to stretch their lead as halftime neared, and led 53-38 by the break.
Kelowna’s scoring was spread around early, too, with Malcom Greggor, Hunter Simson and Parker Johnstone each had 15 points at halftime, while Corneil had 10 to lead Tweedsmuir. Johnstone finished as the Okanagan squad’s high scorer, with 28.
Samra insisted there was no panic in his team despite their early struggles.
“We knew what we were capable of doing, we just knew we had to bring some energy and find it within ourselves,” he said.
In addition to Samra’s MVP award, Corneil and fellow Panthers Elijan Devison were named second team all-stars.
Saturday night’s provincial championship for the Cloverdale-based Panthers followed a B.C. title for the North Delta Huskies just a few hours earlier, at the triple-A level. In that game, also played at the LEC, the Huskies edged Vernon 46-44.
The Surrey-and-area title run began last week, when the South Surrey-based Semiahmoo Totems captured a senior girls triple-A provincial crown with a win over the Walnut Grove Gators.