The Dalhousie University Tigers men’s basketball team is still searching for the secret to beating Atlantic University Sport’s (AUS) number-one team: the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men.
The team is sitting well, third in the conference standings as of Feb. 8. But in two meetings so far this season, Dalhousie came up just short with two losses in overtime. Each team pulled off comebacks in the fourth quarters of both games, but StFX took care of business on each occasion.
The last time the two played, it was after the Tigers played their worst game of the season according to head coach Rick Plato — a 91-62 loss to the Cape Breton University Capers. The team bounced back and played hard against X. But they still fell 80-74 in the Jan. 14 matchup. That’s the final time they meet before a potential showdown at the AUS Championships.
StFX has a lot to play for this year; they host the U SPORTS Final 8 men’s basketball championships this year. Hosted at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, this is certainly the year X wants to be at their best.
“In this league, anybody can beat anybody on any given night. Based on the depth and the success of [StFX], I think they’re the team to beat,” said Plato, who noted the mental game is the X-factor for dumping the X-Men.
The four-time AUS coach of the year said his team is capable of doing the job. One barrier is the number of turnovers the team has been committing in those games. Dal committed four turnovers in overtime against X on Jan. 14.
“It’s one thing to lose, but when you beat yourself, those are the ones that really sting,” Plato said.
‘It’s a marathon, not a sprint’
In the Nov. 25 game against X, the Tigers led until the final 15 seconds of regulation time. The players, Plato said, will learn from mistakes leading to that lost lead, which he called “boneheaded.”
“It’s all part of the process, I tell the guys all the time, ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint.’”
Samuel Maillet, a third-year Tiger, said the defence has been a deciding factor in their battles with StFX.
“In our most recent one, it was a low-scoring game, we made everything tough on them,” Maillet said. “The game was in the 60s before overtime, and we kept the game to the pace we wanted to play it.”
Maillet, the reigning AUS defensive player of the year, noted Dal’s rebounding was not up to par. Cleaning up mistakes and executing on opportunities are the team’s biggest goals heading into the postseason.
“I think everyone is understanding how they can help out the team best. We’ve had a lot of games where we’ve had a few great quarters, a few games in a row where we’re good, but we’ve yet to put it together,” said Maillet.
“Our expectations for the playoffs are nothing short of an AUS Championship,” said Tigers veteran Shamar Burrows. Averaging 12.6 points per game as of Feb. 8, Burrows said the team’s execution is how they will look to keep their AUS Championship streak alive for four seasons straight. Dal has won the conference every season since 2015, except when the University of New Brunswick Reds took the title in 2018.
Guess who eliminated Dal from the championships that year? StFX.
“Once we get into the playoffs, we want to be sharp on offensive execution,” Burrows said. “Pay attention to the game plan, keep the same approach on defence. For each game, I think it’s important for all of us to buy in and understand if we want to win another championship. One man won’t do it all for us. We need to do it as a unit.”