Saint Mary’s 90, Acadia 74 It was only three short weeks ago when observers including this one made mention of the possibility that the Saint Mary’s Huskies could be battling for their playoff lives right down to the end of the ’15-’16 AUS regular season. However, much like last season when SMU started just 5-6 and then won 8 of their last 9 regular season games and then captured their first two games of the AUS tournament before bowing in an exciting, almost-legendary AUS championship final against Dal Tigers, Huskies under coach Jonah Taussig are peaking at exactly the correct moments again this season.
In a playoff atmosphere this evening in Wolfville on Acadia’s Senior’s Night, Saint Mary’s held off several Acadia runs, getting out in transition, attacking the offensive glass and defending very well in a tidy 90-74 victory over the Axemen. The loss ended Acadia’s hopes of securing a first-round bye in the AUS tournament. Only UNB Varsity Reds, with two games and 8 points remaining to gain, has a shot at catching UPEI for second spot. The Reds and Panthers meet on Friday in Fredericton with not only second place on the line but a potential AUS MVP showdown between the two leading candidates: 6’2″ Tyler Scott of the Panthers and 6’1″ Javon Masters of UNB squaring off in what is one of the closest races for league MVP in recent memory.
But back tonight where a pair of outstanding sophomores were on display as 6’2″ Kemar Alleyne of Saint Mary’s has played his way into all-star discussion consistent with Huskies re-emergence as a legitimate AUS championship contender. The rapidly-improving guard from Scarborough had a game-high 23 points and added 10 boards making 3 of 7 3’s. More importantly, Alleyne was the catalyst in a game-deciding 23-6 run late in the third – he had 7 of his 13 third-quarter points during the run when Huskies scored in bunches in transition and on the offensive glass. Highlighting the run was a spectacular ally-oop slam by 6’5″ Theon Reefer (18 points) on a slick feed from 6’0″ Marquis Clayton who is starting to get his timing and skills back after missing much time in January and February due to injury. But Reefer, who attacks the offensive glass with aggression, did his best work on the defensive end, helping to hold Acadia 6’5″ wing Kyle Arsenault to just 1-9 from 3 and 2-10 overall.
Acadia continues to be led by their star 6’3″ sophomore guard Ben Miller who I predict, barring injury, will be an AUS MVP before his career is said and done. Miller simply sees the game on a different plane than others and would be a high-end rotation guy on any team in Canada (yes including #1, #2 and #3) given his ability to read the ball screen, make the correct pass/decision on virtually every play and his sneaky competitive drive. Miller has not shot the ball very well over the past few games and tonight finished with only 8 points, 4 rebounds but did have 9 legitimate assists and 5 steals while playing most of the first half with 2 fouls – Coach Kevin Duffie revealed how important Miller is to his team’s success allowing the sophomore to play at least 7 minutes in the first half with the 2 fouls and then Miller remained in the game even after picking up his 4th foul early in the 4th quarter.
Axemen fell behind by 19 points early in the fourth and went to a tight 2-3 zone that slowed the Huskies down, creating turnovers and tougher shots. The result was one final 11-0 run that got the game back down to 8. But three possessions, all resulting in terrible decisions/shots and none of them involving Miller orchestrating, doused the run and then SMU’s 6’8″ Osman Barrie hammered home a slam of his own to all but seal it.
One of Acadia’s better scorers this season has been Arsenault who at Christmas led the entire country in 3 point percentage (near 60%). Unfortunately the lanky wing forward missed time with a January injury and has not returned to his pre-injury form. Tonight, hounded primarily by the longer, quicker 6’5″ Reefer, Arsenault was under duress all night. At the end of Acadia’s final 11-0 run, on consecutive possessions he tried to drive the lane and fell – turning it over and then took two threes early in the shot clock that were not close and as a result his team got no closer.
Barrie finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds for Saint Mary’s while Achiul Lual added 10 and 8 as Saint Mary’s completely dominated the glass winning the rebounding battle 53-30. Axemen forward 6’9″ Erik Nissen sat for much of the first half with 2 fouls and finished with 12 points and 6 boards. Slick shooting Nick DePalma got red-hot in stretches, especially in the first half for Acadia when twice Huskies grabbed double digit leads only to watch DePalma knock down quick 3’s, finishing with 21 points on 5-8 from downtown.
The battle for the final playoff spot in the AUS continues Friday night as Cape Breton (20 points), presently in the sixth and final spot, hosts first-place Dalhousie while Memorial (14 points, 8 points remaining) hosts St. FX X-Men for two games in St. John’s on Friday and Saturday. The Seahawks must sweep and hope that the Capers drop home games to the Tigers (Friday) and then Saint Mary’s on Saturday, both in Sydney.
** -Dalhousie 13-6, 38 pts. 1 game 4 pts. left: at CBU (4)
y – UPEI 12-7, 34 pts. 1 game 4 pts. left: at UNB (4)
y – UNB 10-8, 28 pts. 2 games and 8 pts left: UPEI (4), ACA (4)
y – Acadia 11-8, 28 pts. 1 game and 4 pts left: at UNB (4)
y – Saint Mary’s 10-9, 28 pts. 1 games & 4 pts. left: at CBU (4)
Cape Breton 8-10, 20 pts. 2 games & 8 pts left: DAL (4), SMU (4)
Memorial 6-12, 14 pts. 2 games and 8 pts. left: X 2 x (4)
x – St. FX 4-14, 10 pts. 2 games and 12 pts. left: at MUN 2 x (4).
x = eliminated from post season
y = clinched playoff spot
** = clinched first round playoff bye