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Sudbury Five pass a stiffer TBL test

The nature of the interlocking games with TBL (The Basketball League) opponents for the Sudbury Five and their five remaining BSL (Basketball Super League) brethren is somewhat hit and miss.

For the most part, BSL teams have consistently held the upper hand – often times by a margin of twenty points per game or more.

But when you are only playing less than a third of the 38 TBL teams, the fact is you likely will get some good with the bad.

The Los Angeles Ignite arrived in Sudbury on Friday sitting in first place of the Pacific Southwest Division with a record of 8-1. By half time of their Saturday night matchup in northern Ontario, the Five were keenly aware these games were no “gimmes”.

Desperately needing a pair of victories to keep their playoff hopes alive, the locals swept a very solid visiting side, piggybacking a 109-90 win on Sunday with a much closer 112-102 triumph a little over 18 hours earlier.

The Sudbury quartet of Ja’Myrin Jackson, A.J. Mosby Jr, J.D. Miller and Duane Notice led the Five in both contests, with Notice continuing to build on a campaign that blows away a very solid first season in northern Ontario in 2023.

“Ever since my injury, I had to change my game,” said Notice, a 29 year-old Toronto native who played his NCAA basketball at South Carolina, referencing a torn Achilles and calf suffered in the summer of 2020. “I’m not quite as athletic, so I have to be a little smarter, try and drive and kick or get into defenders’ chests and try and finish over them or through them.”

While Notice established himself as a perimeter threat last year, it’s his ability to create while now going hard to the rim which has earned him a steady starting assignment with the Five in year two. “I’m a thicker, solid guy and not afraid of contact,” said the guard who finished with 32 combined points versus the Ignite.

“I don’t shy away from getting into the paint.”

By the very nature of his injury, the second thoughts were pretty much a given as he returned to the game after signing with the Five following a couple of years with the Hamilton Honey Badgers (CEBL) and a season with the 905 Raptors G League squad.

“It’s really just trusting my foot,” said Notice. “Last year with the Five, I wasn’t driving as much. I was so scared. But now I am driving to the basket confidently. That’s the biggest change.”

With only eight players dressed, Los Angeles posed a more serious threat on Saturday, trailing by just three at the half (52-49) and still within range heading to the fourth quarter (83-77).

“What I really liked was that our team really played together and we really stuck true to what we needed to do,” noted Michael Brovac (Sudbury Five – Player Development), stepping in for head coach Logan Stutz for the post-game interviews. “We didn’t let our emotions take control.”

The lack of depth on the visitors’ bench proved particularly costly Sunday afternoon as the nickel city men gradually built up their lead to a 16-point advantage at the end of three quarters of play (81-65) and closed out the win without a letdown in the fourth.

“We want to up our tempo and we definitely wanted to do it against them, knowing they had travelled,” said Stutz as the Five improved to 16-11 and now prepared for a critical three game road set this week opposite the Newfoundland Rogues (16-12). “They have played one back to back in their entire season and I think we just played back to backs on three straight weekends – so we knew that we had an advantage there.”

Still, there is little time to rejoice as it could well take a two of three set in Saint John’s to ensure post-season play for the Five faithful. “We’ve got to treat that like a playoff series; that’s almost like round one,” said Stutz. “If we go out there and have success, we’ve basically won round one and will be in the playoffs.”

“If we go out there and don’t have success, we’re probably out of the playoffs.”

The Five should be in a good frame of mind, with much to like about this most recent weekend.

The cherry-on-the-cake, if you will, was a touching pre-game ceremony for three year veteran Evan Harris as the 37 year-old native of Los Angeles has decided to call it a career at season’s end.

“I’ve been in eight different countries on two different continents and the fans here are second to none,” said Harris. “I have never in my life played for the same team for three years. I was telling my wife that earlier. For us to have been here for three years is a blessing. It’s a testament to the community.”

“I hope that as time goes on, more guys recognized how special Sudbury truly is.”

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