Pardon the tired cliché, but the regular season means nothing.
Saint Mary’s entered the AUS men’s basketball championship this weekend with five consecutive losses, while UPEI was on the right end of a streak, winning four of their last five.
But all you need is to win one game to advance in this tournament.
The sixth-seeded Huskies proved the post-season is where it counts, ending their losing skid to squeak a victory from the third ranked UPEI Panthers 67-66 Mar. 1.
The semifinal, a rematch of last year’s bout against Acadia, is Mar. 2 at the Halifax Metro Centre at 8:15 p.m.
Riley Halpin was integral to Saint Mary’s gritty victory, sinking four three-pointers for a total of 16 points. His team only clinched its playoff berth in the last weekend of the regular season.
“We realize we got a horrible season but we made the playoffs thankfully. We’re here, the record is 0-0, and we’re ready to start clean.”
It wasn’t a pretty basketball game to start, with both outfits recording shooting percentages in the dismal 28 per cent range in the first half.
The difference was in the second half, where the Panthers couldn’t change their fortunes. They hurt themselves with a 5-for-27 performance from behind the arc and only 11-for-23 from the free throw line.
For UPEI coach Tim Kendrick, his team didn’t shoot well enough.
“We were just hanging in there,” he says. “It took us until the fourth quarter to get going.”
The Panthers went on a 15-0 tear to take a two-point lead with minutes to go, but Miguel Pink turned it on at the right time. After missing in his six previous shots, he was good for three consecutive threes to hold off UPEI’s late charge.
Next up for the Huskies is a semifinal contest against Acadia. The Axemen dismantled Saint Mary’s in last year’s playoffs, and did the same handily in their two meetings this season.
Halpin says the return of Harry Ezenibe, who has battled injuries this season, might be the difference maker. The high-flying fourth-year had a game-high 16 boards against UPEI.
“They got the better of us the last two times. Harry Ezenibe wasn’t playing—he adds a lot. But we’re not going to let them walk all over us,” says Halpin.
Acadia won the AUS banner last season after beating top-ranked St. FX in the championship game. A victory for the Axemen would be their third consecutive appearance in the title game. They lost to Dalhousie in 2011.