6’2″ Sage Usher picked up where he left off after leading Canada to a recent Maccabi Games victory, nailing the decisive jumper from just inside the arc with only 21 seconds remaining as the Varsity Blues held off a valiant, Shane Reader-led York comeback to win 72-70 this afternoon at a near-capacity Goldring Center in Toronto.
Blues broke open what had been a tight game through 3 quarters, taking advantage of turnovers on the first 3 York possessions of the fourth quarter to eventually forge to a 10 point lead with 4 minutes remaining and it appeared that the game was well in hand. 6’4″ Devin Johnson (24 points) and emerging 6’11” center Miro Jaksic were instrumental in the run. But York’s dynamic 6’3″ guard Reader put his team on his back, driving and finding teammates to draw the Lions even at 67 with just 2 minutes remaining.
But Usher (12 points) started what turned out to be a dramatic, back-and-forth last couple of minutes, knocking down a large three from the left wing with 1:50 that restored a three point lead. Reader was undeterred, scoring the next 7 points for York, his final shot from the left baseline with a hand in his face being a three that tied the score at 70, setting up Usher’s game-winning shot. The Lions had one last opportunity to tie or win however as 6’4″ Nathan Culbreath drove the lane with his left hand with just 12 seconds left, the squirted off his hands, hit his defender’s body and rolled back down toward the Blues basket. York regrouped but a desperation 3 at the buzzer was not close and Toronto escaped with an important, confidence-building win.
Johnson again was Blues big offensive producer, although down the stretch, Jaksic (11 points on 5 of 7 shooting and 6 rebounds) got going – his emergence as a legit scorer inside promises to make the Blues more difficult to play. His tough “and 1” in the final 2 minutes and follow up put back gave Toronto a 70-65 lead before Reader brought York back.
Reader has an array of strong offensive skills where he can knock shots down, get to the rim to finish with his strength and an uncanny ability to hang on rim-attacks and find teammates on the perimeter for open “j”‘s. Reader is York’s best overall player – Culbreath is very good also however he never really got into the game this afternoon after picking up 3 fouls in the first half. Another high-potential forward for York is the oft-injured 6’5” Daniel Tulloch, a scary athlete who remains rather raw with his basketball IQ but has the potential to be a game changer. Tulloch was also in foul trouble early after nearly crowning two Blues on a put-back on the very first possession of the game.
The game attracted over 2,000 fans, many from local elementary and high schools and was again delivered in a very high quality manner.