The Vanier Towhees hosted the 4A North Island Basketball Championships this past weekend.
The tournament was essentially a seeding tournament for the upcoming Island Championships in Duncan, starting Feb. 23, and the Towhees came away from the weekend with the best possible results.
Vanier beat the Cowichan Thunderbirds 87-61 and outlasted Nanaimo District Secondary School, 64-59.
The Towhees expected a physical game against the Thunderbirds of Duncan, and responded with a defensive gem that not only created pressure on their shooting, but also frustrated them into many early fouls to all the starters.
Vanier took advantage of that and converted many of the 41 free throws they were awarded in the game. Cowichan made a bit of a comeback effort in the third quarter, but then Vanier’s starters put the game away for good early in the fourth. Four starters hit double-digit scoring for Vanier: Imraan Abdulganiyu led the way with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Jace McDowell had 17 points, five rebounds, and five assists, Kaizan Hajdrych 14 points and eight rebounds, and Micah Leopkey-Johnson chipped in with 10 points.
The match against NDSS was, as expected, a close one. The two teams met in December, with the Towhees pulling out a six-point victory.
“Since then, both teams have obviously improved a lot, and we anticipated a physical, hard-played game,” said Towhees coach Larry Street. “The fans were not disappointed.”
Vanier started very strongly with a tough man-to-man defence that put NDSS off-balance. As well, the Nanaimo squad got too physical early and many starters got into foul trouble.
An early strong showing put Vanier up 21 – 8 at the end of the first quarter. Vanier carried a 36-24 lead into halftime.
NDSS made a bit of a comeback early in the fourth quarter, bringing the score to 50-43 in favour of the Towhees.
“Then (our) shooting went cold, and we had an exciting time when NDSS came within one point,”’ said Street.
The last minute was frantic, and key free throws, as well as a well-timed sideline play, booked the win and provided the Towhees with their third North Island Championship in five years. Abdulganiyu scored 26 points, added seven rebounds and had four steals.
“The other senior captain, Kaizan Hajdrych, had 14 points, six rebounds, six assists and showed great leadership down the stretch,” said Street.
McDowell chipped in 12 points, nine rebounds and assists and excellent defensive play.
COMING UP: As the top seed from the North Island, the Towhees face South Island fourth seed, the Belmont Braves, in the opening round of the Island Championships, Thursday. Games continue Friday and Saturday
ALL-STAR CAPTAINS: Abdulganiyu and Hajdrych have been selected to the Vancouver Island All-Star games to be held at Spectrum in Victoria April 8.