It’s often said that defence wins championships.
The Neelin Spartans are proof of why that mantra exists.
Leading the Linden Christian Wings 39-30 at halftime of the high school provincial AAA varsity boys’ basketball final, the Spartans clamped down defensively and their efforts spurred them to an 89-48 victory in Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon.
The Spartans allowed just 13 second-half points in their 74-50 quarter-final win over the St. Norbert Celtics and only 15 in the final 20 minutes of an 83-44 triumph over the Lorette Scorpions in the semifinals.
By knocking off the Wings, it marked the first time the Spartans claimed the AAA title since a 104-58 victory over the Celtics in 2008 in Dauphin.
"It’s special for all the kids," Neelin head coach Don Thomson said. "This group of kids has committed a lot of time to it playing out of season, and playing in-season. There’s so many multi-sport kids and this has been just a great opportunity not just for Kellen (Giilck) but for the other 12 kids to … play the game the way it should be played.
"It’s just nice to be successful at the end of a year."
Giilck, the lone Grade 12 student on the team, poured in 18 points in his final contest as a Spartan and received an all-star nod. Riley Paul, who led Neelin in scoring with 27 points, was also named an all-star.
Dayton Black had another monster game with 21 points and 15 rebounds. He was named the tournament MVP.
Lucas Vasconcelos didn’t have a stat-filled final, but his two points, six rebounds and four steals didn’t go unnoticed by Thomson.
"He does all of the little things that fit into it that rarely gets the ink," Thomson said. "He’s the consummate team guy."
Vasconcelos said it’s special to lead Neelin to a another title. He and most of his teammates were on the junior varsity squad that captured the AAA provincial crown a year ago.
"It’s awesome and it’s really good to give Kellen that opportunity and give him that title finally," Vasconcelos said.
He said the key was playing strong 10-minute games, especially in the second halves.
Neelin’s strong defensive play in the second half had a directly impacted its play on the other end of the court.
"Our defence started creating some offensive opportunities and those opportunities just allowed us to put it in and put the game out of reach a little bit," Thomson said. "In the first three or four minutes of the second half the ball just wasn’t flowing and then we made a couple of subs and I think we got on a roll and just joined in a went for a ride."
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