The Dalhousie University Tigers men’s basketball team continues to dominate. Their near-perfect season continued as they won their fifth Atlantic University Sport (AUS) Championship in six years on March 1.
Dal took a 76-64 win over the St. Francis Xavier University X-Men at the Scotiabank Centre. Over 4,000 fans came to watch.
“We worked hard starting in September all the way to now and showing that, it all came together today,” said Dal fourth-year Alex Carson. A second-team AUS all-star, he was named the tournament MVP after a dominant performance in the final. He finished the game with a team high of 22 points, four steals and five rebounds.
In the regular season, Dalhousie’s record was 19 wins and one loss. That loss was to the X-Men, a 78-77 game in January. The Tigers’ defence stood out this year as they led the conference with the least amount of points scored against, 65.8. This put them in second in the country in the same category.
Against the X-Men in the AUS final, the Tigers were first on the scoreboard with two free throws made by fifth-year Sascha Kappos, who would go on to score 12 more points by the game’s end. The first quarter ended 24-16 for Dalhousie.
The X-Men didn’t let them run up the score, however. In the second quarter, the Tigers’ were outscored 16-9. StFX took the lead with 43 seconds to go in the half as Azaro Roker made two free throws, but a jump shot from Dalhousie’s Keevan Veinot put the Tigers back in the lead to end the half 33-32.
The third quarter was a physical one as both teams went into bonus shooting. StFX had eight fouls, sending Dalhousie to the line to make 10 out of 11 (10-11) free throws. The Tigers had five, and the X-Men went 4-6 at the line. Carson was the top scorer of the third with nine points, helping Dalhousie keep the lead going into the fourth.
“Second half we came out and just attacked,” said Veinot. “We just kept pushing it and wore them down.” Veinot, named the AUS MVP and the player of the game, finished the final with 18 points, eight assists and nine rebounds.
Going into the fourth quarter, the score was 58-52. It stayed that way until over a minute into play as Carson hit a three, assisted by Shamar Burrows. After that, the Tigers offence was clicking. Though StFX starter Justin Andrew put up seven points in the last quarter, trying to keep his team in contention, it wasn’t enough. Eight points from Carson, six from Veinot and two apiece from Jordan Wilson and Jordan Brathwaite in the last quarter helped give the Tigers the win.
The AUS defensive player of the year, Dal’s Xavier Ochu, also had a strong game. He went three for three from the free throw line, and had six rebounds and two steals.
Onward to nationals
With the championship win, the Tigers are headed to the U Sports men’s Final 8 tournament in Ottawa, taking place between March 6-8.
Last year the Tigers hosted the U Sports championships. They finished fourth, losing to the Ryerson University Rams 84-66 in the bronze medal game. In 2016-2017 Dal beat McGill University 69-63 in Halifax to come third. It was the first national medal in program history.
Carson was a member of the bronze medal winning team, and with another opportunity this year, he wants to really show what they can do.
“We want to go there and show the country that the AUS is a strong conference,” he said, noting that the AUS is often underestimated in national rankings.
The last time a team from Atlantic Canada (StFX) won the Final 8 was in 2001.
This year Dalhousie is ranked second in the country going into the tournament. Last year they were ranked seventh, and in 2017, when they took home the bronze, they were ranked 10th.
The Carleton University Ravens are favoured to win this year’s tournament. They’re ranked first in the country and have won eight of the last nine national championships.
But Rick Plato, head coach of the Tigers, likes his team’s odds.
“I have told a lot of people I think this is the best team I have ever coached,” said Plato. As of the time of writing, they had a couple more days to practice before flying to Ottawa, but he said of his players, “they will be ready.”
Plato was named the AUS coach of year for the third time in his career. He was also awarded the U Sports coach of the year, the first time a Dalhousie men’s basketball coach has received that honour.