Dalhousie 87, UPEI 85… 5’11” Ritchie Kanza Mata finished an “and 1″ in the final minute, giving the Tigers the lead for good with 31 seconds remaining in one of the most entertaining games in the entire CIS season as Dalhousie took their second consecutive AUS tournament championship at Scotiabank Center in Halifax. After a slow start, the AUS first-team all-star stole the show from a number of erstwhile heroes, scoring 15 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter including three traditional three-point plays with several answering huge Panther shots.
The game was a signature illustration of how strong the CIS product is coast-to-coast before several thousand engaged fans. The hard-luck Panthers got tremendous performances from 6’2” Tyler Scott, who finished with a game-high 23 points and down the stretch from 6’6″ Brad States (10 fourth-quarter points including a dunk) and unlikely potential hero 6’6″ Milorad Sedlarevic, (17 points, 10 in the 4th) who had back-to-back 3’s late – the second giving UPEI a three point lead with 3 minutes remaining. But Tigers Cedric Sanogo , one of five Tigers in double figures, tied it on the next possession with a three of his own as the game seemed to hinge on each possession, with Kanza Mata making the deciding basket and Dal’s “d” holding tight after that.
Panthers exploded off the opening tip of the game, building what was quickly shaping up as an insurmountable lead at 20-4 as Scott made his first 4 3’s and freshman Amin Suleman added 7 points including a couple of tough mid-range pull-ups as UPEI made 7 of their first 8 shots including four 3’s. Tigers weathered that early storm, locking down in transition and coming back against Panthers bench late. Kanza Mata was shaky early but did find 6’6″ Sven Stammberger with a pretty “and 1” feed inside to get Tigers back to within 3 at 25-22 – ending an 18-5 Dal run. Later, Kanza Mata found sharpshooter Matt McVeigh for a left corner 3 off a draw and kick and Tigers had their first lead at 32-31.
Panthers were at their best in the first half guarding in man and were very good limiting second chances on the glass. But coach Tim Kendrick tried to sneak in a break for Scott late in the quarter and when the AUS MVP runner-up and States were on the bench, Dal was able to bring the game back. The rest of the game was filled with dramatics with neither team taking leads larger than 5.
Scott again showed signs of dominating the game, especially early but tough shot selection in some instances and then foul trouble – Scott had 4 fouls in the third quarter – limited his effectiveness. The Panthers have nothing to be ashamed of – this is a tremendous program with exciting stars – technically they lose no one to graduation and their core of Scott, States, 6’7″ Dut Dut and rising guard Suleman should be among the favorites to win the AUS again next season.
Tigers become the first team to qualify for the CIS Final 8 scheduled in two weekends from now in Vancouver at UBC.