The Dalhousie Tigers beat the McGill Redman 69-58 to win the bronze medal as the hosts of the U-Sports’ Final 8 tournament at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
This is the Dalhousie basketball program’s first medal at the national championship and Tigers senior guard Ritchie Kanza Mata is happy to win it at home.
“It feels amazing to having brought something to a community that has brought so much to us, and invested a lot into us,” Kanza Mata said.
The Tigers’ first game of the tournament was a nail-biter. They played the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who ranked one seed ahead of Dalhousie in the U-Sports rankings. The game was tied at 65 with 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Tigers forward Kashrell Lawrence got the ball and drove for a lay-up to put the Tigers up 67-65 with 1.4 seconds left. The Tigers forced a turnover on the inbound pass and the 6,410 fans at the Scotiabank Centre roared as Dalhousie won their opening game of the tournament. Lawrence finished with a game high 28 points.
The Tigers faced the first seeded Ryerson Rams in their semi-final game. Ryerson beat the Tigers in last year’s Final 8 bronze medal game. The Tigers got off to a hot start and led the Rams 16-9 at the end of the first quarter. The Rams battled back and were only down two points going into half time. The second half was evenly played and the Tigers found themselves down by one point with eleven seconds left in the fourth quarter. Again, the ball found its way into Kashrell Lawrence’s hands. With three seconds left, he was forced to take a tough 3-point shot, but missed. The Tigers lost 59-58 to Ryerson.
After the game, the Tigers were dejected. Their goal all season was to win the gold medal for their home fans. When asked how he felt after the game, Kanza Mata said “empty.”
The Tigers, like last season, played for the bronze medal in the Final 8. They were playing the McGill Redmen who are the second best defensive team in Canada this season. The Redman started strong, leading 32-25 at the end of the first half. The Tigers came back in the second half and they were up 59-58 with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter. The Tigers are used to playing tight playoff games. Going into this game, their largest victory in the playoffs was 3 points. They used their experience to their advantage and went on an 11-4 run to take home the bronze medal with a 69-63 win.
Tigers forward Sven Stammberger said the team did not want to repeat last year and lose their final two games of the tournament and season.
“Last year, losing the last two games at nationals was very disappointing,” Stammberger said. “We never wanted to end the season like that so yesterday after we lost…we all knew we had to win this game to improve upon last season and to not have that feeling going into summer.”
The Tigers have won three AUS championships and a Final 8 bronze medal playing in the Scotiabank Centre. Tigers forward Kashrell Lawrence had high praise of the fan support in Halifax.
“It’s great playing in this building, it’s a great atmosphere,” Lawrence said. “Somebody said Halifax is the Mecca of basketball and they weren’t lying.”
Acadia is hosting the Final 8 next year back in Halifax. Tigers Coach Rick Plato wants his team to be hungry to come back and win a national championship that he thought they should have won this year.
“Somebody asked me, ‘Are we ahead of schedule?’ and I said, ‘No we’re behind,’” Plato said. “I thought yesterday, with this accumulation of talent, the leadership and heart that we would have got it done.”
Plato said he is still proud of his players even though they didn’t accomplish their ultimate goal.
“I can’t say enough about these guys,” Plato said. “I hope Halifax is half as proud as I am because no words can describe about how I feel about these guys.”