Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – For the second weekend in a row, the MacEwan Griffins played dead even with a nationally-ranked men's basketball team.
Pity it was only for one half.
Down by just four to U SPORTS No. 3 Alberta through the first 20 minutes, the Griffins lost track of the finer details of their game in the second half to fall 74-56 on Thursday night at David Atkinson Gym.
The result was nearly an exact carbon copy of what happened five days earlier when they trailed by just six at the half to No. 6 UBC in Vancouver before losing by 27.
"I think it's a credit to them," said Griffins head coach Eric Magdanz. "Good teams play at a certain level all the time and when they really buckle down, they have the ability to kick it into another gear.
"So, for us, I don't think our level of play really decreased. Credit to U of A, they came out and played just that much harder and did their scout a little bit crisper and at the end of the day it led to better opportunities for them."
Early on, it appeared the Griffins might be in position to pull off a stunning upset over their cross-town rival when they came out firing – hitting at 80 per cent from the three-point line in the first quarter – which helped them open up as much as a seven-point lead.
But their hot shooting began to wane in the second quarter, foreshadowing a game-turning third quarter when Alberta outscored them 24-8.
From there, it was onto the final 10 minutes, which featured backups from both sides as the result wasn't really in doubt.
"We let ourselves down defensively and that translated into poor shots offensively for us," said Magdanz. "It's making extra efforts to dive on loose balls, it's making extra efforts to get a body on rebounds and attacking off of it. It's little details now that we need to stress to get ourselves to the next level.
"We've competed hard with the best teams in the country, but to get to their level, we have small adjustments to make."
The Golden Bears made those adjustments at half-time, particularly on defence where they limited the Griffins to just 15.4 per cent shooting from the field in the third quarter.
Head coach Barnaby Craddock wasn't overly happy with his team's first-half performance, but they rallied to grind out a win that keeps them atop the Canada West table at 16-1.
"The MacEwan guys made more shots. They were more ready to play than we were in the first half," he said. "Fortunately, we woke up there and I thought we were pretty strong defensively there in the third quarter. That changed the game a little bit.
"We're trying to put a 40-minute performance out there and I don't think we were successful in that. So, credit to MacEwan for their first-half performance. They won the first quarter and that kind of set the tone, I thought."
But, as nationally-ranked teams do, their stars take over. For Alberta that was leading scorers Mamadou Gueye (17 points), Austin Waddoups (15 points) and Brody Clarke (13 points and 11 rebounds for a double double).
"Brody, Austin and Mamadou – they're all all-star calibre players in the league, so we count on them for a lot, but in general we want to see the team play with more energy defensively for 40 minutes," stressed Craddock. "That's what's given us some success this year."
There were certainly some positive takeaways for a young Griffins team, despite the fact the loss drops them to 4-13 on the Canada West season and deals a serious blow to their playoff hopes.
"We're getting there," said Magdanz. "Early in the season, we had some losses to good teams but where we just didn't look like we were at their level.
"We've played two nationally-ranked teams in the last two weeks and given them a run for their money.
"Are we at their level yet? No. But we're definitely (heading) in the right direction."
The teams will meet again on Saturday (7 p.m., Saville Centre).