Defense wins championships.
That often-used sports phrase is a fitting one for the now four-time Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation (NSSAF) Division 2 boys’ basketball champions.
Just ask Nicholas Dayman and Jordan Phee – key members of the provincial banner-winning Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Royals of Antigonish.
‘Defense’ was the first word each player uttered, when asked what was key to securing the basketball crown.
“We know each other so well and we have great communication,” Nicholas said of the Royals’ effort on that end of the court.
Jordan added “helping one another” as crucial to their ability to lock down an opponent.
“We started in a 2-3 zone, switched to man, and then we took off,” second-year head coach Jason Dayman said of the 72-61 title-clinching victory over the Breton Education Centre (BEC) Bears of New Waterford, Cape Breton.
“We were able to shut them down.”
The Royals, who led 34-32 at halftime in the March 2 game at Millwood High School in Middle Sackville, extended their advantage to 53-41 after three quarters. In the final quarter, the Regional stretched their edge to as many as 20, before holding off a late surge by BEC.
“We didn’t get off to a fast start, but we were able to figure things out,” Dayman said.
Phee led the Royals with a game-high 29 points.
“It feels great – I am super pumped about what we were able to accomplish. We played together as one,” the Grade 11 student, who averaged 27 points-per-game in the tournament, said.
“I was able to score, with a lot of help from my teammates, and find them for open shots.”
As part of a balanced attack – another important component for the Royals this season – Nicholas, in Grade 10, contributed eight points and 14 rebounds, while his Grade 9 brother, Nathan, chipped in 13 points and seven rebounds.
“I didn’t have a great shooting game, but I focussed on contributing in other ways,” Nicholas said, which included finding teammates, like Phee, who were able “to get to the hoop.”
Anthony Sears and Cole MacDonald finished in double digits, with 11 points apiece, while MacDonald corralled nine rebounds.
Another calling card of the Royals throughout the season has been the performance of their bench players – both on and off the court – which was key in the title run.
“It is so important,” Dayman said.
He explained non-starters not only contribute on the court, when called upon, but also from the bench, when they do things, such as count down the shot clock or call out defenses.
“It is exciting. We have a great group of kids who really play for each other,” Dayman said.
The top-seeded Royals opened the eight-team, single-elimination tournament with a 93-56 win over Central Kings.
Phee meshed 26 points, while Nicholas Dayman contributed a double – double – 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“Jordan was great at pushing the ball and getting to the hoop throughout the tournament,” the head coach said.
Nathan Dayman contributed 17 points, eight rebounds and six steals, while Sears chipped in 13 points and six steals.
In the semi-final game, the Royals defeated Middleton 84-72.
Nathan Dayman finished with 32 points and nine rebounds, while Phee added 26 points.
Nicholas Dayman added another double-double – 10 points and 15 rebounds – along with six assists.
“We played great – I am really proud of the boys,” the head coach said.
No ‘walk in the park’
Dayman reflected on a moment late in the championship game, when he eyed the NSSAF gold medals on a nearby table.
“I told them that was the final goal, and we would reach it, if we took care of business,” the head coach said of the motivational tool he used down the home stretch during a timeout.
He added he reminded the players that they were on the verge of what they worked so hard for, including those early morning practices.
“Everyone had a great tournament and they really stepped up,” Dayman said.
He added the players earned their reward.
“And, it wasn’t a walk in the park,” he added, noting the challenge posed by BEC and Middleton, in the final and semi-final games, respectively.
Future is bright
Looking to next season, Dayman agreed the future is bright for the Royals, noting international exchange student Martin Puga Sieiro – a key contributor until he was injured in the first game of provincials – is the only player not returning.
“It is exciting – we have a great bunch of young guys,” he said.
Jordan described the team as “tight knit.”
“We are always there for each other,” he said.
“It is an awesome group to be a part of,” he said.