Griffins show they'll be a team to be reckoned with, despite home-opener loss

Justace Byam has made a big difference for the Griffins so far this season (Railene Hooper photo).
Justace Byam has made a big difference for the Griffins so far this season (Railene Hooper photo).

Jason Hills
For MacEwan Athletics

EDMONTON – The MacEwan Griffins men's basketball team has taken their fair share of blows in some tough losses over the past two seasons.

But if their season opener is any indication of how this year may unfold, the Griffins aren't going to be pushed around any longer.

MacEwan fell 101-90 to the Mount Royal Cougars on Friday at the David Atkinson gymnasium, but showed plenty of fight, pushing MRU right to the final buzzer.

Justice Byam led MacEwan with 20 points, three rebounds and three assists, while Matthew Osunde recorded 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the loss for the Griffins.

Keivonte Watts led MRU with 27 points and six rebounds, while Tomie Holt recorded a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds in the victory.

"We knew last year we were going to get killed and I wanted them to stick with it, because I wanted them to learn. You can't be a good boxer until you've been knocked out and we can't be a good team until we've been kicked, and we took a year of being kicked and now those lessons have been learned and we're getting better," said Griffins head coach Mike Connolly.

"Our guys have worked hard and we just have to keep working to turn this around."

MacEwan trailed 28-17 after the first quarter, and they were led by a hot-shooting Osunde, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the first quarter.

After a relatively tight opening quarter, the Griffins defence got away from them in the second quarter and they trailed 55-40 going into halftime.

"Our effort was good, but it wasn't quality. We gave up too many easy shots. They shouldn't have scored 100 on us. We want the game in the 70s and 80s. I just felt our defence wasn't at its best tonight," said Connolly.

Despite being down 15 going into the third quarter, the Griffins weren't going to just roll over. They were down 72-57 midway through the third, before going on a strong run to close out the third quarter, only down 81-73, thanks in large part to rookie Nash May, who scored six points in the third quarter, hitting a corner trey to make it 77-66, and then he finished the third quarter calmly knocking down three free throws after getting fouled on another three-point attempt.

Like they say in the boxing world, they gave themselves a 'Puncher's chance' for the comeback.

"We just wanted to get to eight, by the start of the fourth quarter. If we could cut it in half, we knew we'd have a shot," said Connolly.

"We were able to cut the lead all the way down to three points in the fourth, but I think some of our inexperience came through at some times down the stretch."

Two veterans the Griffins got strong performances from, especially in the second half, were Marco Correas and Milan Jaksic, who both recorded double-doubles.

Correas finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, while Jaksic finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

Correas was a beast on the offensive glass bringing down eight offensive boards.

"He was very good for us. He's one of our most skilled players. He's going to be a guy that can definitely average a double-double," said Connolly, regarding Correas.

MacEwan had four players score in double digits in the loss. Getting that type of offensive output is a good early season sign.

"That's the first time we've had that in a while. I feel with the guys coming back from last year, and some of the guys we've brought in this year, we have a team that can do that," said Connolly.

MacEwan and MRU will wrap up their weekend series on Saturday (4 p.m., David Atkinson Gym, Canada West TV). Admission is free as part of MacEwan's Open House celebrations.