Friday, 7 March 2008

AUS Report from Chris Kallan

By Chris Kallan


It appears metro fans like their hoops.
A huge crowd of 5,743 supporters came out to the Halifax Metro Centre for last night's men's Atlantic Universities Basketball Conference quarterfinals; a 12-day layoff between the end of the regular season and the beginning of playoff posturing produced a mild upset and a near one.

The fifth-seeded Dalhousie Tigers figured out how to win the big one on a bigger stage with a 10-point victory over the faltering and fourth-seeded Cape Breton Capers, while the third-seeded Saint Mary's Huskies needed some late game heroics to get by the sixth-seeded Prince Edward Island Panthers by a bucket. Dalhousie faces the defending conference champion and top-seeded Acadia Axemen in Saturday night's early 6 p.m. semifinal. Saint Mary's meets the second-seeded St. Francis Xavier X-Men in the late 8:15 p.m. final four nightcap.

The final is Sunday at 2 p.m.

DALHOUSIE TIGERS 82 CAPE BRETON CAPERS 72 — The Dal faithful waited almost a decade to celebrate a playoff win and they did so in style, chanting head coach John Campbell's name in a thunderous roar as the final seconds ticked off the clock. The Tigers looked the hungrier team from start to finish, for the most part, and were rewarded with the school's first postseason victory since 1999. An impressive feat considering starting forward Germain Bendegue broke a finger in practice earlier in the week and did not play. The turning point came with 41 seconds left after Dal's Devon Norris hit a free throw, but converted his own miss on the second for a 78-69 Tigers advantage. Dal's Andrew Sullivan scored a team-high 24 points for the Tigers. "We believed in ourselves and this feels great to lift all this pressure off our shoulders," Sullivan said. "There's a lot of Dal supporters and alumni who have waited years for us to be in the winners circle in the playoffs and we gave it to them. We're back there for at least one night." The Tigers led 21-16 after one quarter and 39-31 at the half before the Capers showed signs of fight. A 17-6 run to end the third quarter, including a thunderous dunk from all-Canadian forward Eric Breland which originated from down the left baseline, brough Cape Breton back to within one at 57-56 after three quarters. But Dal re-asserted itself over the final quarter and hit some big shots to make the upset a reality. In league play, the Tigers edged the Capers by three on their home court, but were whacked by 41 on the road in the re-match five days later. Cape Breton was rated as high as sixth in the country and cracked the top 10 for the final eight weeks before dropping its final three regular season games which cost them a first round bye. Drew Stratton played the entire 40 minutes and scored 21 points, while former Wisconsin-Green Bay guard Simon Farine had 19 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. The Tigers were good on 28 of 32 free throw attempts, including 13-of-14 by Farine. Breland, a six-foot-five, 235-pounder in his fifth and final year of eligibility, was virtually unstoppable inside with 35 points and 17 rebounds for one of the greatest individual playoff performances in recent memory. "Breland is such a phenomenal and savvy player and he basically put his team on his back," Campbell said. "Their defensive pressure caused us some problems, especially in the third quarter, but we did enough things well to win." Other than Breland's brilliance, there was little else offered up by the Capers, who continue to be snakebitten in the postseason. Cape Breton is 2-9 in the playoffs since 1998. Fifth-year guard Paul Blake was silent for most of the night and it was too little, too late once he showed signs of life. The second team all-star beat his man cleanly off the dribble and hit a three-pointer for five points within a 25-second span as part of a late rally which brought the Capers to within 73-69 with 1:25 remaining. That was pretty much Blake's night as he missed 10 of 14 shots and finished with 11 points in his final university game. Cape Breton head coach Jim Charters, who guided the Capers to a 14-6 regular season record to win coach of the year accolades, said seven of his players had a combined 25 minutes of postseason experience. But he blamed himself for not calling enough plays for Breland. "Our inexperience might have hurt us a little bit, but we just didn't get the ball inside enough and that's my fault," Charters said. "It's not the kids' fault. It's more mine for not preparing them well enough." Dal dropped all four league games by margins between eight and 14 points against Acadia. Sullivan knows the Tigers will have a battle on their hands against the Axemen, especially trying to guard league MVP Leonel Saintil. "You can't stop him, but you can slow him down," Sullivan said. "We've battled Acadia tough all year. We're definitely not scared of them."

SAINT MARY'S HUSKIES 65 PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND PANTHERS 63 — Why do things the easy way when there's a more difficult option? The Huskies, the top free throw shooting team in the league (70.6 per cent), nearly shot themselves out of the playoffs with a terrible 11-of-23 effort. Aaron Duncan's three-point play with 31 seconds left proved to be the winning points in a game they trailed by four inside two minutes. The six-foot-five swingman, perhaps the best player in the league not to earn an all-star selection, added a free throw with 1.2 seconds remaining. UPEI's Jared Budd missed a three-pointer on the Panthers' last possession and Anthony McDougald couldn't convert an offensive rebound. "Basketball's a game of runs and luck, and we had the last one," Duncan said. "Maybe we tried to overlook UPEI a bit so we have to come out prepared to play harder." Saint Mary's guard Shane Morrison, a second team all-star, only played 15 minutes due to back spasms. The Huskies won twice as many games as the Panthers (14 to seven) and swept the regular season series 2-0. Mark McLaughlin scored a game-high 19 points for the Huskies. Duncan added 16 and Ikeobi Uchegbu 15. Duncan and Uchegbu also ripped 11 boards apiece. A brilliant off balance shot while falling down by Jonathan Cooper had put the Panthers up by a basket with 41 seconds left. UPEI's Andrew Black scored 17 points, Anthony McDougald 13, Manock Lual 11 and Brent McLaren 10. Black and Lual also grabbed 15 and 11 rebounds, respectively. The Panthers were classy in defeat and went out of their way to embrace their opponent during the post-game handshake. "Everyone worked their butts off in practice and it transferred over to the court," Cooper said. "We just came up short, but that's the way the cookie crumbles." Saint Mary's versus St. F.X. should be a dandy as the Huskies have a score to settle. The Huskies are on a three-game losing streak versus the X-Men and has lost four of five overall. "We know what to expect from X and they know what to expect from us," Duncan said. "Hopefully they're not looking past us because we'll be ready."


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice write up. a short note that it is just not Metro fans that were there last night. Many people were there from outside Metro to watch the AUS. i have travelled from Antigonish and later New Glasgow for over 25 years to this tournament and so do many others.
Great crowd, compeetitive ball, GO X GO.

Paul F