The Dalhousie University Tigers men’s basketball team captured the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) banner for the third year in a row with a triumphant win over the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers.
This is the team’s third straight title and sixth in the past seven seasons.
The Tigers managed to catch their rhythm on both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter, en route to an 84-78 win in the game that mattered most.
“We recognized what we had to do, and we stayed with what we planned to do,” said Tigers head coach, and four-time AUS coach of the year, Rick Plato. “Out of the six [titles] that we won, there was only one time that we were ahead the whole time. We get down and we play hard. The way we play defensively grinds and wears teams down.”
With the 2020-2021 AUS season being scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this win felt surreal for many players on the team.
It was especially powerful for some. The win was the last time some Tigers will get the chance to suit up in the black and gold for AUS play.
“It is unbelievable. I am really happy we could win it in my last season [of eligibility],” said tournament all-star Alex Carson. Tigers stars Shamar Burrows and championship MVP Keevan Veinot are also leaving the team following the season.
“In the back of my mind, I thought, ‘This could be my last game.’ But being able to actually win it with this great group of guys, I am just really happy,” Carson said.
The Tigers were clawing back the whole match, as they trailed from early in the first quarter.
UPEI guard Glen Cox went off for 26 first-half points, which carried his team to a 14-point lead heading into the locker room at the half. He hit 13 shots out of 19 attempts in the game and shot two of three from three-point range.
Although the Panthers ultimately fell short of their final goal, they led for most of the game with tournament all-star Elijah Miller leading the team in rebounds (five) and assists (four), as well as scoring 13 points. He scored at least 34 points in each of the two games preceding their showdown with Dal.
“We are going to use this loss as fuel to the fire. We have a lot of room to grow, and we are going to come back next year and make a run at it again,” said UPEI head coach Darrell Glenn.
The Tigers had a spread-out box score with four players hitting double-digit points. But it was Shamar Burrows who came out in flames to start the second half. He notched a double-double with 19 points and 13 rebounds, seven of those points coming late in the final 10 minutes, when the team needed it most.
“Coming out of the locker room, we were down 14 and some of us had 20 minutes left in our university careers,” said Burrows. “We knew that if we wanted to make the next step to play in the national championship, we would have to come out and fight.”
Also with 19 points was Veinot, who gathered nine assists, six rebounds and two steals of his own. Veinot struggled to find his groove offensively in the first half, but he was dancing by the third quarter. Nine of his points came in those 15 minutes.
“I think the fact we didn’t have a season last year made it feel better,” said Veinot of the win, his third AUS crown. “And everyone likes a good comeback story. It was a great way to win.”
The momentum shifted into Tigers territory around the start of the fourth quarter. The nearly 5,000 fans in attendance erupted at the Scotiabank Centre when Veinot powered through for an Earth-shattering slam dunk, giving the Tigers the lead for the remainder of the game.
This is now the eighth AUS title win in program history, the fourth-most of any team all-time in the conference.
The Tigers remain well behind the Acadia University Axemen’s record of 17 championships. But since 2014, they’ve had failed to win the championship only twice: the University of New Brunswick Reds’ win in 2018 and the COVID-19 season in 2021.
The Tigers continue to stay locked in and are now looking ahead in hopes of sealing their first national championship title. They play at the 2022 U Sports men’s basketball championships from April 1-3 in Edmonton.
“We are going to go celebrate our championship win right now, but come tomorrow we are refocusing,” Veinot said. “We have to win three more games and we will take it from there.”