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Lord-a-Toundra - the Sudbury Five needed that win

His team struggling to find their offensive rhythm in the opening half of their Family Day encounter with the Montreal Toundra, Sudbury Five newcomer Landon Kirkwood went off, netting 13 straight points for his team and helping to keep the contest close.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, however, the native of Brooklyn Park (Minnesota) was more than happy to receive a little extra help – with his teammates more than happy to provide it.

Sure, it was a pair of Kirkwood threes that turned an 80-79 deficit into an 85-80 lead with 6:30 still to play – but in a late stretch where Sudbury outscored Montreal 20-9 to close out the game and secure a 99-89 victory, the contributors went beyond simply the man who posted a game-high 22 point effort.

“My teammates trust me to take those shots and make those shots,” said Kirkwood. “Without them, I don’t get those shots. I try and bring some energy and the basketball gods were rewarding me for it.”

While the contest was close from the start until the final two minutes or so – quarter end scores of 23-23, 50-48 and even 74-68 would lend credence to that statement – there were certainly some up and down moments for the home side.

It would take more than eight minutes for the Five to reach double digits from the time of the opening tipoff, with Sudbury coach Logan Stutz a little more willing than usual to let his top dogs work their way through some adversity.

“We had a lot of trouble protecting the basketball (early) and getting guys to the right spots,” said Stutz, who essentially ran with an eight man rotation in this encounter. “Maybe that’s from a little tiredness, a little fatigue. Landon brought us up in that second quarter and I think that carried into the second half.”

Still, it was the Toundra who held the lead with 12 minutes to play, with the Five reclaiming it for good when Kirkwood hit for three with just under seven minutes showing on the clock. A few key factors would come into play down the stretch.

For starters, limiting your opponents to just 15 fourth quarter points is an almost sure-fire recipe for success. “We were rebounding, contesting shots and locking in on personnel – knowing who the shooters are, knowing who to go under on the screens, knowing who to go over on the screens – and playing as a unit,” said Kirkwood.

And while Raymar Morgan looked as cool as a cucumber in sinking three big free throws late in the game, it was his defensive presence that made coach Stutz most happy. “Raymar is kind of like an anchor for us in the middle,” he said. “You’re not going to see anything spectacular from him, but he’s going to make the other team’s big man work really, really hard.”

“He’s done that every game for us,” added Stutz. “It’s giving guys the confidence to get more into the passing lanes and get more deflections for us.”

If spectacular is going to happen, however, there’s a pretty good chance that Landon Kirkwood will be front and centre, the aerial dynamo bringing the crowd to its feet with a pair of jaw-dropping alley-oop slams.

“The crowd is like the sixth man; they bring the energy,” said Kirkwood. “If I am hitting shots and I am getting them involved, it just brings the intensity up. If I can do that, it betters our chances for a win.”

Coach Stutz is also no stranger to becoming animated on the sidelines, typically walking the floor for much of every game. On Monday, he decided to take in the action from his seat on the bench for a good swatch of time in the second half.

“We’re working on communication,” explained Stutz. “I can’t be the loudest guy on the court and I can’t be the loudest guy on the bench. We just got to a point where I really shortened the bench today. I wanted to see those guys buy-in and come up with a win, come up with a way to get good sets, to get good defense, to get good rebounds.”

Outscoring the Toundra 31-15 in the fourth quarter clearly pleased the ultra-pleasant (generally speaking) native of Kansas. Doing it in a battle that marked the fourth time his team was taking to the court in a period of exactly a week pleased him even more.

“I was proud that we were able to end this stretch with our best fourth quarter of the year,” said Stutz. “That was probably the biggest positive.”

Joining Kirkwood at the top of the Sudbury scoring parade were Duane Notice (19), A.J. Mosby Jr (15), Jalen Hayes (10) and Ja’Myrin Jackson (10) while Dominick Welch (18), Phillip Flory (15), Amari Haynes (15), Corey Boyd (13) and Mambi Diawara (10) countered for a Montreal crew that drove through the night after stopping the Frederick Flying Cows 98-89 Saturday night in La Belle Province.

The Five will enjoy a few days off before welcoming the Jamestown Jackals to northern Ontario for a Saturday – Sunday double-header next weekend.

Greater Sudbury Soccer Club