SMU semifinal win sets stage for cross-town rivalry final

After Saturday’s commanding semifinal win over UPEI, only the Dalhousie Tigers stand in the way of back-to-back AUS men’s basketball titles for the Saint Mary’s Huskies.

In what turned out to be a day of upsets in the men’s AUS semifinals, the SMU Huskies beat the second-seeded UPEI Panthers 105-92. The Dalhousie Tigers, just hours before, upset the top-ranked UNB Varsity Reds in a nail-biting finish to advance to the finals.

While SMU’s win was far less dramatic than Dal’s, their game had a much faster pace. Both UPEI and SMU were desperate for the win — desperation that led to several personal fouls and errors by both teams.

UPEI, who had a first-round bye, spent most of the first quarter trying, it seemed, to work out a defensive strategy against the fast-moving Huskies. Head coach Tim Kendrick, who had been sick in bed all day, repeatedly called for the players to stay up court after making a basket to slow down the Huskies. But even when players heeded his instructions, SMU was able to outmaneuver and drive the ball in. As the clock hit zero on the first quarter, SMU held a commanding 30-21 lead, a deficit UPEI would ultimately be unable to recover from.

UPEI was looking to score big in the second quarter, outshooting SMU 44 to 38. But by the end of the half they only completed 23.5 per cent of their three pointers and had a field goal percentage of just 40.9 compared to SMU’s 57.9 per cent. Marquis Clayton lead the Huskies in scoring with 18 points, at one point scoring three monster three pointers in a row. Even with SMU’s high turnover rate of eight compared to UPEI’s four, the Panthers just couldn’t get the ball in the hoop.

The third quarter was a mad dash with frustrations running high, leading to frenetic and scattered play from both teams. Despite the to-and-fro play, the Huskies were able to convert baskets at almost double the rate of UPEI, extending their lead at one point to 13. In the last minute of play, UPEI’s Brad States had a massive block forcing the ball out of bounds — a glimpse at the defensive abilities of the team which until that point had been seriously lacking. SMU maintained their lead and wrapped up the quarter at a comfortable score of 77-64.

It wasn’t until the final quarter that the Panthers finally started to show signs of life and remind the crowd why they were the second-ranked team in the AUS. Three minutes into play, the Panthers cut SMU’s lead to four, keeping it there for a few minutes. As the clock wound down to the five-minute mark, nerves and anxiety got to both teams, which led to sloppy play and a plethora of personal fouls. UPEI then capitalized, narrowing the gap to just three points with two minutes left in the game. But it was too little, too late for the Panthers — their poor field goal percentage continued to haunt them and SMU pulled ahead by nine with a minute remaining. As the seconds counted down, the Huskies extended their lead to 13 and ended the game 105-92.

But Jonah Taussig, head coach of the Huskies, wasn’t celebrating.

“We got the result we wanted, but 92 points against us is a higher than we would have liked,” he said. “We gave up [19] points off of rebounds, which in my opinion is far too many.”

Both Taussig and starting guard Jeremy McAvoy pointed to personal fouls as a weakness for the team. The Huskies had 25 personal fouls, while UPEI wasn’t far behind with 19.

“We had foul trouble, we definitely struggled with that, but the bench backed us up,” said McAvoy.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s final, Taussig said the team will be focusing on patience when dealing with a slower-paced game from Dalhousie. McAvoy stressed transition and ramping SMU’s own defence as priorities for the team moving forward.

The Huskies tip off against their home-town rival Dalhousie Tigers on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at the Scotiabank Centre.

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Jessica Flower

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