Only four teams in women’s and men’s basketball, soccer, volleyball and hockey have won Atlantic University Sport (AUS) titles ranked fifth or lower entering the playoffs since the start of the new millennium.
The Saint Mary’s Huskies men’s soccer team was the most recent team to do it in 2011, entering the playoffs sixth-ranked. The UNB men’s hockey team in 2003 and the Memorial women’s basketball team in 2000 also both won AUS titles as fifth-ranked teams.
Then, there’s the 2015 Dal men’s basketball team, who entered the postseason fifth-ranked at 10-10, winning only five of their last 14 regular season games and six of 16 games against other playoff teams. They lost two games in the regular season by 27 and 41 points, had only four players who had played a game at the Scotiabank Centre, and on top of all that, lost their star third-year big man Devon Stedman to a career-ending knee injury midway through the season.
But now, they’re AUS champions.
With the odds stacked against them, nobody, and I mean nobody, expected to watch the spectacle this team performed in front of the home crowd.
Here’s a little sample of what the team accomplished.
The Tigers trailed by 10 or points in every single playoff game.
They scored only six points in the first quarter of their quarterfinal game against the Cape Breton Capers, but ended up winning in dramatic fashion with a buzzer beater from tournament MVP Kashrell Lawrence.
They beat Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) leading points per game shooter Javon Masters and the Varsity Reds in the semifinals, after trailing by 11 at half.
They trailed by as much as 17 in their championship game against crosstown rival Saint Mary’s, but inched a thrilling fourth quarter comeback to win the game in overtime.
Many are calling the Tigers’ run a Cinderella story. But third-year shooting guard Jarred Reid isn’t a huge fan of that.
“We did what we were expected to do and what we told ourselves we could do,” he said. “So for us, it’s not a Cinderella story. For us, we thought we could be there, we proved we could be there, and we executed.”
Head coach Rick Plato, who has only held the main coaching position for two years, said the victory was a result of strong defence, a lot of heart, and just a little bit of patience.
“They worked their asses off and played the defence that kept us in the game,” he said. “I can’t say how proud I am of the team never quitting.”
First-year point guard Adam Karmali topped his AUS career point record in the first half of Dal’s semifinal game against UNB, scoring 12 points in the frame.
He said it wasn’t hard for him to keep focused on the big stage.
“They were pretty wide open shots. A lot of them were kick outs from Kash when he was getting doubled inside. It’s not hard to make the open shot, just got to do it at the right time.”
Karmali wants to demonstrate that his team’s playoff run wasn’t a stoke of luck..”
As for the team’s association to the girl in the blue dress, Plato couldn’t care less.
“If we can end up the way Cinderella ended up in the end – I’ll take it.”