Two questions have hung over the Langara College Falcons like a cumulus Vancouver cloud for over a month:
Are they as good as they were last year?
And, can they beat VIU?
The answer to the first question is subjective. They’ve lost big pieces from last year’s historical provincial championship run, but their best players have gotten better and the supporting cast is still one of the best second units in the PacWest.
They addressed the doubts that any skeptic (including myself) had about their depth last night, as the Falcons bench contributed 43 points in a 101-80 win over the Douglas College Royals at Langara’s campus.
Four of the starting fourth-years posted double-digit scoring numbers, and Maple Ridge’s Max Neumann had his best game of the adolescent season, adding 10 points, eight rebounds, three emphatic blocks and went a perfect two of two from distance in 17 minutes off the pine.
“I thought that Max had his best game of the year, he really did a nice job for us on the boards, and on both ends of the court,” said Langara head coach Paul Eberhardt.
Forward Garrett Ling-Lee led the Falcons with 21 points on 75 per cent shooting, while PacWest player of the week Brody Greig registered another complete game of 10 points, 12 assists, five rebounds and four steals.
Jitt Lohcham also added 10 points and five boards, but perhaps the most critical scoring came from Elliot Mason, who torched the Royals in the third quarter en route to a 16 point, 11-rebound performance.
Mason is truly an incredible, one-man wrecking crew of a shooter. His stroke reminds me of the purest jumper I’ve ever witnessed in person, Brandon Roy, but his length and high release are in almost exact replication of Paul George.
“Elliot hadn’t really had a great year for them in terms of scoring,” said Douglas head coach Denis Beausoleil. “If you looked at his points per game so far, it wasn’t that high. But we knew that he was going to break out, and he just lit up in the third quarter.”
It was during that stretch when Langara turned a 15-point halftime advantage into a 21-point lead heading into the fourth. That lead reached as many as 26 in the final frame, yet regardless of the final margin, Eberhardt was aggravated and seething both during and after the game.
“I think a lot of people probably watched the game tonight and thought ‘What the hell is that Langara coach screaming for when they’re up 30?’” said Eberhardt.
The long time PacWest coach, currently in his second season with the Falcons, garnered a technical in the fourth quarter, and was dangerously close to picking up a second as he boisterously voiced his displeasure with the call.
But Eberhardt admits that he’s a perfectionist, and his frustration stemmed from a poor level of intensity in the team’s practices leading up to the game.
“The truth is, I think I went into the game with a bad mood to begin with,” he said. “I didn’t like the way we practised this week. I thought we practised soft. You know I had a pretty big blowup with the boys at Wednesday’s practice. I knew it was going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I felt that we didn’t play hard today. I thought we left about 30 points off the scoreboard tonight.
“With the tempo the game was played at, we should have been at 120 or 130,” he added. “And we just didn’t focus. I wasn’t happy with how we played, and I think that was a reflection of how we practiced. So yeah, I was kind of in a bad mood.”
After amassing a quick 11-point first quarter lead, Langara did allow Douglas to hang around during pockets of the remaining 30 minutes, as the Royals relentlessly – and sometimes recklessly – attempted to match the pace of the Falcons.
Grant Campbell, the Royals’ rookie point guard from Fraser Heights Secondary, continued from his breakout performance last weekend against Kwantlen, going off for 36 points – the high of his young collegiate career.
“I didn’t really realize that he scored 36 until I looked at the score sheet,” said Beauseoleil, who is beginning to accept Campbell’s proficient offensive outings as the norm.
“I think Grant can hang with any point guard in this league. He is a rookie, he is going to have his ups and downs, but I think he can hang with anybody.”
Third-year forward Andrew Baron, whose improvement was the subject of Wednesday’s NPH feature, chipped in 17 points and six rebounds for the Royals.
The second part to that first question posed earlier about the Falcons’ comparisons to last year’s squad was partially answered with their bench production – eclipsing Douglas 43-12 in that regard.
“That was one of the bright spots tonight,” said Eberhardt. “Devante [Williams] has been giving us good minutes of the bench too. We’re starting to get a little bit of an idea of what we want to do with our rotation, but that’s a work in progress. The bench is definitely starting to make more contributions than they were earlier in the year.”
But the answer to the second question – if Langara can beat VIU – is a lot less subjective, but still remains a mystery.
The Falcons will get their chance to disrupt the Mariners’ undefeated record next weekend, as they host both island schools – Camosun College on Friday night and then the national champs the following afternoon.
“We have to make sure that we don’t look past Camosun,” said Eberhardt. “And we have to use that as preparation for the big game against VIU. I’m pretty comfortable that we’ll be ready and that we’ll be fired up for that game. But I want to be fired up for every game.”
It’s that rare lapse in focus that has Eberhardt unusually agitated right now.
“I don’t want them it turning it on and turning it off because I think if you do that, you get soft,” he said. “It’s tough to play at the highest level, regardless if you’re up by 20 or down by 20. And I think it’s hard for athletes to understand that. I think they were looking ahead a little bit, and it just irritates me when they do that. I’m not a patient man for things like that.”
Eberhardt was asked if the loss to Quest back on November 9 (which already seems like months ago) was necessary in their growth. Last year, after tacking on the only loss to their 20-1 regular season campaign – a 102-100 overtime defeat to the CBC Bearcats – Eberhardt believed that it was the best thing that could have happened to them.
“I think at that point in the season last year, that it was good timing and we needed that,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s the same this year, being that early. But I’ve always believed that you can learn a lot more from losses than from wins. Obviously I never want to lose, but it doesn’t bother me if we learn the right way. I think we’ve learned a few things from [the loss to Quest], but not everything. Not yet.”
When the Falcons do get back on track, (admittedly a rather odd thing to say upon them winning three-straight games) it’s Eberhardt’s prophetic declaration of ‘Not yet’ that should worry the rest of the league.
As mentioned Langara hosts both island teams next weekend, as does Douglas, with the Royals swapping VIU for Friday night and Camosun for Saturday afternoon, respectively. The Friday night bouts tip off at 8 pm and the Saturday contests at 3 pm.
- Eberhardt on the much-anticipated matchup with VIU:
“No question. We have to play them twice on the road in February, so it’s going to be a really important game. You play a team three times, and that tiebreaker is huge. It’s a pretty tall order to get two games at their place, so the game next weekend will be pretty important.”
- Eberhardt on their perceived lack of depth in the backcourt, considering the loss of Jeff Chu – who had an enormous performance for his new UNBC Timberwolves team last night in a win against Brandon University:
“He’s a top quality point guard. I wasn’t expecting to replace him, but what we’re doing right now is getting other people in a position where they’re comfortable. Giving Brody a bit of a rest.”
- Beausoleil’s assessment of VIU in advance of what is sure to be an uphill battle for the Royals next weekend:
“It’s hard to tell if VIU or Lang, or Cap or Quest is the best team until you play them all. They don’t seem quite as deep as they were last year. But they have Clayton Billet and Brandon Jones – which is an incredible backcourt. That will be tough in itself.”
- Beausoleil on the rookie Campbell going toe-to-toe with last season’s PacWest player of the year, Brody Greig:
“It didn’t even really seem like [Campbell] was beating Brody – I’m not sure if they even played to a draw. I think Brody had a hell of a game. If Grant was kind of going at Brody, Brody was going at all five of us. He was that good tonight.”
- Beauseoleil on playing Langara, Camosun and VIU to finish the first semester:
“The schedule is what it is. We just have to stay prepared to play. It is a bit of a tougher stretch, but for us – a team in the middle of the pack – that’s what it is. It seems like it’s always a tough stretch.”