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Tigers men’s basketball takes AUS semifinal over SMU

Ngala shines as Dal defeats cross-town rival in their first match of the championship

As fans cleared out of the Scotiabank Centre with seconds still to play, the Dalhousie University Tigers coasted to a 90-75 over the Saint Mary’s University Huskies in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Men’s Basketball Championship semifinal.

Nginyu Ngala scored basket after basket and totalled 37 points for not only a season high but the most points he’s scored in his three years at Dal.

Rick Plato, the team’s head coach, said he was proud of his squad, especially Ngala.

“I love him to death,” Plato said.

Ngala, the starting point guard for the team at a height of 5-11, went into bigger defenders’ chests all night long to rack up layups while also knocking down four three-pointers. Ngala credited the work he put in all year for coming alive on the biggest stage.

“I knew it was going to eventually come through,” he said.

Malcolm Christie, the 2023/24 AUS MVP, added 27 points to the Tigers’ total, including a jaw-dropping four-point-play from behind the arc that had Dal fans jumping for joy. He also praised Ngala for his play.

“He knew what we needed from him and he performed,” Christie said.

The first half

After Jackson Enyinna, a Saint Mary’s forward, scored a layup in the paint, Spencer Riar answered with the first basket for Dal when he sniped a corner three, causing the Tigers’ student section to erupt. 

Riar knocked down another three on part of Christie launching in the air for a steal. On the next play, Sam Maillet out-hustled Tjark Lademacher, then knocked the ball off of the Huskies freshman out of bounds, which Christie responded to with a three. 

Dal raced out to an early 14-4 lead, and after Devawn White lost his defender for a mid-range bucket, Ngala brought the Dal fans out of their seats with a catch and shoot corner three.

Jayrell Diggs, an AUS first team all-star, got the Huskies going late in the first quarter, when he drained three free throws and took his defender off the dribble to sink a deep three. 

The Tigers went into the second quarter up 21-15. Ngala continued to torch SMU in the early minutes of the new quarter when he floated for a layup and followed it up with another three-pointer.

Christie riled up the Scotiabank Centre when he drilled a fading three-pointer and the foul shot. However, Diggs came right back with an off-the-dribble three and rose up for a mid-range make. 

Ngala recorded his 19th point of the first half when he skied up for a layup plus the foul, and Dal went into intermission with a 49-32 lead.

The second half

Riar came out of the break with a corner three and Ngala picked up where he left off with a floater and stepped around Jonas Maerz, who was looking to draw a charge for a layup.

With two minutes left in the third quarter, Marc-Denault Gabriel, a SMU guard, knocked down a layup while falling and was fouled. Gabriel missed the foul shot, but White tipped it in the bucket. 

The momentum was in SMU’s favour after Gabriel spun into contact for a layup, but Ngala shut down the attempted comeback with two dagger threes, staring down Gabriel after the second.

Ngala’s threes made it a 69-50 lead for Dal going into the final quarter.

Out of the final break, Diggs raised above his defender for a tough finish, but Christie responded right back. He cut into the paint, went straight at his defender and finished the layup. He also put the exclamation mark on the win when he skied up and slammed down a two-hand dunk. 

The Tigers would go on to face the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men in the final on championship Sunday, who dismantled Memorial University of Newfoundland earlier in the day.

The team had a simple plan for defeating the defending champions the next day. 

“Take it easy on the body tonight,” Ngala said. “And just execute the same game plan like we did tonight.” 

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