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Tigers entering the new year prepared to win

Dal men’s basketball wants to come out on top despite what’s holding them back

The Dalhousie University men’s basketball team is entering 2024 tied for third place in the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) standings. With no overarching favourite in the league, the Tigers have their eyes set on the championship.

Dal built up momentum over the Christmas break during the Shoveller Tournament, collecting close wins against the Calgary Dinos (103-98) and the St. Clair Saints (84-81) where they played without Nginyu Ngala, Alex Ruiz and Jayden Parker.

“They’re two gritty wins that showed a lot of character,” said Sam Maillet, a fourth-year Tiger. “They might not have been our best games for a total of 40 minutes, but there were stretches where we showed what type of team we can be.”

Rick Plato, the team’s head coach is also impressed with the way things are going for the Tigers considering the circumstances. 

“Overall, we’re 17 and seven, and I’d take that despite our injuries,” said Plato. “We lost a few games that I think we should have won, but all things considered, the improvement and performance of our first-year guys is more than I expected.”

Plato credits his New Brunswicker upperclassmen, Malcolm Christie and Maillet, as well as

guards Lydell Husbands-Browne, Gabe Damey and Dolu Johnson for willing the team to its current position as the season reaches the halfway mark.

Despite having a strong start to the season, Plato also pointed out three issues that have stood out to him: rebounding, defence and health. 

Rebounding has been a major problem for the Tigers, with the team placing 46th out of 48 teams across Canada in rebounds per game.

“The game is 40 minutes long and if all we’re playing is 10 minutes or less of solid team

defence, we have to do better,” said Plato. “If we can get healthy, I like our chances against anybody.”

Maillet agrees that rebounding has been an issue for the Tigers, and he hopes that the re-addition of Ruiz and Parker after the break will improve that area.

“Those two guys are tough, they’re strong, they battle every night,” said Maillet. “Not to take

away from our first-year guys who have been playing so hard all year, but some experience is going to help in the rebounding department.”

On top of injuries and illnesses to the team, Dal also welcomed nine different players to

the fold over the summer. Of those nine different players, Caleb Stewart, Riley Stewart and

Spencer Riar’s development has stood out to Plato.

“All of them are learning how to play defence at this level against bigger, stronger, older guys,

but all three of those guys have done a solid job up front,” he said.

Christie, Dal’s leading scorer, said that this season has so far met his expectations, but hopes the team will “maybe have a better record in the second semester.”

“For the most part we have a young team,” said Christie. “We’re figuring it out every day, and so

far, so good. This team has a lot of grinders and a lot of talent.”

Christie also recognized that rebounding is a team problem, but, just like Maillet, he agrees that the return of Ruiz and Parker can help mend their rebounding struggles.

“Having guys in and out with little injuries has been killer,” Christie said. “Getting those guys

back will be huge, on top of just staying disciplined and closing games out the way that we

know we can.”

Despite these struggles, the Tigers are still steadfast in their goal to win the championship. To do so, they will need to uncrown last year’s champions in the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men, who made it to double overtime of the National Championship before ultimately losing to Carleton University.

“I want to win the conference,” Christie said. “I think that’s everyone on our team’s goal. We

want to win the AUS and we want to make a go at it at nationals.”

Christie, just like Plato and Maillet, praised the first-year players on the team for their performance. “They’ve been doing more than most first years, especially at Dal,” he said.

On top of taking a jump in points last season, Christie has taken an even bigger leap this year, averaging 23.4 points on a fantastic 48 per cent from the field and 43 per cent from three. 

Over the summer, Christie spent his time training with the Scarborough Shooting Stars, working on his skills in a new environment. 

“I think… I had a good offseason because I was able to spend it in Toronto training with Scarborough,” Christie said. “[I] got exposed to some national team stuff, and just being around that environment all summer.”Christie’s points per game average places him second in the AUS and fifth in the country.

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