Dalhousie Tigers are going back to the CIS Men’s Basketball Final 8 after defeating the UPEI Panthers 87-85 in one of the greatest Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Championship games of all-time and becoming the first team to win back-to-back AUS conference titles since 2006.
It’s never easy defending championships and the cool, calm Dalhousie Tigers did just that, fighting-off a 16-point first-quarter deficit after a Panther like 20-4 opening game run by UPEI, in the first six minutes. For there the game turned into a classic as the champs finally settled down, holding the red hot Panthers scoreless for over four minutes between quarters eventually tying and taking a 36-33 lead late in the second-quarter before couple of Panther layups kept them ahead 37-36 at half-time.
UPEI’s All-Star Tyler Scott closed out his brilliant university career by scoring 23-points for the Panthers and drilled three out of his five triples in the opening minutes of the third-quarter to help push the Panthers lead to 50-44. Dalhousie immediately responded with pin-point execution, working the ball down low to tournament MVP Kashrell Lawrence (14 points, 7 rebounds) taking a 61-57 advantage to the fourth and final ten minutes.
With nothing to lose and everything to gain and the conferences only automatic bid to the national championships at stake both teams gave their absolute effort with five out the games ten ties coming in the last quarter (65-65, 76-76, 79-79, 81-81, 83-83). The last one being the key turning point as Dalhousie Tigers fourth-year, 5’11 first-team all-star point guard Richie Kaza Mata (Toronto, Ont.) went the length of the court in less than three seconds and bullied his way to an improbable, tough, And1 basket putting them up for good at 84-83 with just 31 seconds left on the clock. Kaza Mata finished with a game-high 21 points and eight assists on 7-of-19 shooting to lead all five starters in double-figures. Cedric Sanogo 14 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, Sven Stammberger 13 points, 4 rebounds and AUS Rookie of the Year Jordan Aquino-Serjue (Montreal, Que.) knocked in some key buckets on his way to 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
Four UPEI players reached double-figures, Milorad Sedlarevic (Slovenia) scored 10 of his 17 in the fourth quarter, Bradley States added 15 points, 8 rebounds including a nasty one-hander that swung momentum in the late stages, conference All-Rookie team Amin Suleman 12 points, five assists and Dut Dut game-high 14 rebounds. The Panthers held a slim 38-36 edge on the glass but failed to capitalize on their early lead largely due to their 22 turnovers – resulting in 27 points scored for the savy Dalhousie Tigers who get nearly a week and half off to prepare and march on for another shot at the schools first ever CIS Men’s basketball National Championship.
A few days after being named AUS Coach of the Year, third-year head coach Rick Plato will now make his second straight nationals appearance and with the Cinderella run the previous year behind them, that saw the fifth-ranked Tigers come-up one point short, (57-56 QF loss, Victoria Vikes) of a national semi-final appearance at the 2015 CIS Final 8 the Tigers will be looking to roar a little louder this time around.
2016 AUS Basketball Championships All-Stars & MVP
MVP Kashrell Lawrence – Dalhousie Tigers
Richie Kanza Mata – Dalhousie Tigers
Tyler Scott – UPEI Panthers
Osman Barrie – Saint Mary Huskies
Bradly States – UPEI Panthers