For much of this season we on this site have been touting the strong all-round play of Acadia’s 6’3″ sophomore Ben Miller – even naming the multi-talented combo guard as a First Team all-star in our choices despite him not being mentioned in the official league selections. And for the first three quarters of last night’s AUS quarter-final between the Axemen and Cape Breton Capers, the rest of the crowd’s view was justified as Miller missed his first 8 shots and Acadia struggled, looking listless offensively, getting beat on the glass and trailing by as many as 8 points early in the 4th. But Miller, who has represented Canada internationally and remains among the most competitive players in the country, shook off the rough start and came to the rescue – scoring all of his team-high 19 points in the final 11 minutes of play including 4 3’s in the final 4 minutes of play as Axemen came back to shock the Capers 69-68.
6’3″ Shaquille Smith and 6’5″ Kyle Arsenault were also important contributors for Acadia as Smith knocked down the go-ahead free throw with just 20 seconds remaining and Axemen survived 6’3″ Cedric Kasango‘s decent look at a right corner 3 on the final possession. Arsenault, himself quiet through out the first 3 quarters of the game, hit back-to-back 3’s, the second from deep early in transition that appeared to be the emotional spark for Acadia that got the game from 8 down to 2 quickly.
Arsenault’s heroics preceded what appeared to be a game-determining two-handed dunk in traffic by Capers unlikely hero 6’5″ Tevin Bartley, the first year player out of Toronto’s Eastern Commerce via Allen County Community College in Kansas who averaged just 3.8 points and 8.3 minutes per game during the regular season. Bartley had 14 points on 6-11 shooting in 17 minutes including an early dunk, a huge 3 from the top of the bowl and, taking a pick-and-roll feed from Kasango, a thunderous slam that brought the crowd and his bench to their feet, seemingly sealing Acadia’s fate. In fact Bartley followed Arsenault’s 3’s with a clutch 3 of his own. But Miller would not be denied.
With all due respect to the great Javon Masters, Tyler Scott and Bradley States, Miller would be the first player I would take out of the AUS to start a team. He is by far the best passer in the conference despite playing all season out of position as a pure point guard – he would be much more effective with another pg would could bring the ball up – he defends, makes shots and is scrappy. Last night, Capers continually went under the wing ball screen and the tactic worked – Miller missed his first 5 3’s – but down the stretch when it mattered Miller eventually made CBU pay for the defensive decisions as he was on fire.
Kasango was Capers main offensive catalyst all night with 20 points and 18 rebounds while Kenny Jean-Louis had 16 points and 7 boards. Graduating fifth-year senior center Meshack Lufile struggled amid foul trouble with just 2 points and 9 rebounds in 18 minutes of what turned out to be the final AUS/CIS game of his career for the star from Burlington, Ontario.
Capers out rebounded Acadia 56-47 but could not survive Axemen making 6 of their final 8 threes in the final 6 minutes after making just 7 of their first 30 from downtown.
Acadia advances to this evening’s second semi-final against #2 ranked UPEI Panthers in what promises to be another up-tempo, transition shot filled affair featuring UPEI’s Tyler Scott and Brad States, two of the top players in the conference.
In the earlier game, Saint Mary’s dominated inside as 6’8″ Osman Barrie, snubbed in the official all-star voting, finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds while 5’11” Marquis Clayton proved he is all the way back from his mid-season injuries, scoring 15 of his team-high 25 points after halftime and flirting with a triple-double by adding 9 rebounds and 8 assists as the Huskies pounded the defensively-challenged V-Reds 102-93. Saint Mary’s shot 55% from the floor, pounding it inside and getting to the rim, winning comfortably despite shooting just 53% from the line in what was a highly-emotional game with plenty of chatter, after-whistle gamesmanship and almost a bench-clearing incident near the end of the game but cooler heads prevailed.
5’9″ Matt Daley, playing in what turned out to be the final game of his career, led all scorers with 28 points including 26 in the second half – 18 in the third – but Reds simply could not get consistent stops – their decided lack of a rim protector inside was exposed on this day. AUS MVP Javon Masters struggled, going just 7 for 24 from the field and was just 1 for 4 from downtown, part of a 9 for 28 effort by the Reds (32%). 6’2″ Jesse Kendall had a strong 18 point effort for UNB.
Saint Mary’s advances to meet Dalhousie in an all-Halifax semi-final this evening beginning at 6:30 PM AT/5:30 PM ET.
Another memorable evening of AUS tournament basketball – the most exciting conference event in the CIS.