Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Staring down the barrel at the daunting assignment posed by the defending U SPORTS men's basketball champions, the MacEwan Griffins flinched early, spotting the Calgary Dinos a 19-point first quarter lead.
Despite eventually losing 104-72, the resolve, heart and fight the winless Griffins showed down the stretch of the game will serve them well as they continue to develop for the future.
"I think our team showed tremendous character," said interim head coach Ken Schildroth in his first match behind the bench of the Griffins after a coaching change earlier in the week. "We took some giant steps forward in learning how disciplined we have to be to be successful.
"I call it work energy. We had a rough start, but the work energy through the duration of the game is something we can be very proud of."
The Dinos had things rolling right off the hop in the contest, starting the night on a 12-0 run. MacEwan finally scored 3:09 into the game but behind nine first quarter turnovers, they found themselves trailing 28-9 through 10 minutes.
The second quarter, however, was a different story for the home side as they nearly matched Calgary's output (23-21 for the Dinos). They also nearly matched them in the fourth (26-24 Dinos) – flashes of positives the Griffins can build on after now falling to 0-13 in the Canada West standings.
"They're the No. 3 team in the country right now, so it's a bit daunting, but at the end of the day we're coming out to compete," said Griffins forward Atlas St. Paul-Butler, who had one of the best games of his university career to date with a game-high 20 points in 25 minutes off the bench.
"We could have had a better game. There's a lot of adjustments we could have made better, but we came out and played really hard and put our hearts out there. That's all I can really ask of the guys. We'll make our adjustments tomorrow and go from there."
The Dinos have their ranking for a reason, showing off a wide array of talent and depth outside and inside as their ball movement created multiple open looks in the game. As a result, they shot a sizzling 52.1 per cent from the field.
"We shared the ball well and I thought our pace and our tempo up the floor was good," said Dinos head coach Dan Vanhooren. "That's definitely going to create more open looks and more looks at the rim where our percentages can be a bit higher.
"Seeing the ball well from three helps us open the floor as well. That gives our other guys in the interior an opportunity to do some damage. I thought for the most part we played pretty well."
With the result the Dinos keep their undefeated record intact, improving their Canada West-leading mark to 15-0. When you're used to big wins, though, Vanhooren will stress some of the finer points with his players, who were unable to maintain a 40-point lead they once held midway through the fourth quarter.
"I'm disappointed in us defensively," said the Dinos coach. "We got a little steal happy and started reaching for the ball and we gave them some opportunities. I thought (St. Paul-Butler) played great for them and shot the ball really well. That's what he's been doing all year and we have to do a better job on him tomorrow for sure."
The other challenge that the Dinos didn't particularly hit out of the park was how to stay fully engaged with a sizable lead.
"We have to play our way," said Vanhooren. "That's been our message all year and it's been a tough one for us I think because we have had a few games like this. It is definitely a mental challenge to stay focused and do what you're supposed to do, not try to poach passing lanes and run around undisciplined out there when you're getting steals early in the game.
"We have to be more disciplined in that way defensively."
Both Mambi Diawara and Brett Layton scored 19 points for the Dinos, while Lars Schlueter had 16 to go along with three steals, David Kapinga drained 13 and Lucas Mannes had 10.
Besides St. Paul-Butler, Luke Harold also hit double digits for the Griffins, bucketing 10 in just 11 minutes on the floor, getting hot from behind the arc (3-for-5).
"I thought Atlas had a tremendous individual and team performance," said Schildroth. "Just the overall character and togetherness of the team was fabulous."
The teams will meet again on Saturday (7 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV).