They didn’t quite look like the same team that had won three straight All Native Basketball Tournament (ANBT) championships.
Not in the early going of Saturday’s All Native Basketball Tournament final did the Skidegate Saints Senior men’s team resemble any part of the dynasty who have become so loved by their Haida Gwaii community.
Taking on the Ahousat Suns, a team they had beaten by 15 points in the round robin, the Saints’ shots just weren’t falling in the first quarter and by the time the buzzer went, the Suns had stunned the crowd with a 25-11 lead.
But once the Saints’ comeback started, it was like trying to pull back a full-speed freight train with your teeth.
Skidegate woke up fast and dominated play the rest of the way, earning themselves the 87-76 win and their fourth-straight ANBT Seniors title in the process.
“Eventually [we were thinking] the shots we were missing are going to start to hit,” said Saints’ star Duane Alsop.
“We were a little too slow and lazy on defence to start but we got our energy up, a few shots started to fall and the momentum of the game switched. We had faith the whole time. We just knew it was a matter of time before it happened.”
Alsop’s four three-pointers in the second quarter were a huge part of that comeback. His hot hand got the Saints back within striking distance of taking the lead. With the game still in Ahousat’s control at 33-23 in the second quarter, Skidegate turned it on with a 14-6 run to pull within two points for the 39-37 deficit at the half.
From there, it was game on for the islanders.
A nine-point lead was never relinquished in the dominant third quarter. With the Suns trailing 60-51, they could never find their footing and ultimately fell to the powerhouse Saints in the end.
“We practice three times a week. We play every Friday just having fun and we weren’t having fun at the start but we started clicking and having fun and it felt like we were back home,” said Alsop who notched 22 points in the win.
“It’s a bit of a relief, really. We come here and it’s the last game of the tournament and the last thing you want to do is lose that game, so there’s a sense of relief that we were able to pull it off but we never once thought that we weren’t going to come out on top.”
Jason Alsop had 17 points for Skidegate, while Seniors tourney MVP Darcy Pearson had 15. Jared Casey sank 11 points, Tyler York had 10 and last year’s Seniors MVP Desi Collinson had five points for the Saints.
Responding for Ahousat was Waylon Swan, an all-star and winner of Most Inspirational Senior player, with 27 points, Luke and Devin Robinson with 12 points and tourney bBest Defensive Player Travis Thomas with 16.
“There’s a lot of community support behind this whole event for us and we wouldn’t be here without [our fans] so we take that pride and representing our village and our nation and we want to make them proud. This is for them, not us,” said Duane.
Cole Edinger and Tyler York of Skidegate took home the Sixth Man and Mr. Hustle awards respectively and Kyle Cline of the Prince Rupert Chiefs was the tournament’s high scorer.
Tournament all-stars included Desi Collinson and Jason Alsop from Skidegate, Luke Robinson and Waylon Swan from Ahousat, Justin Adams and Graham Watts from Kincolith, Charlie Leeson and Jordan Vickers from Kitkatla, Kyle Cline from the Prince Rupert Chiefs and Shawn Gladstone from Bella Bella.