The Keevan Veinot/Sascha Kappos connection was on full display Saturday afternoon at the Scotiabank Centre. The Dalhousie University Tigers men’s basketball team clinched a berth in Sunday’s final at the Atlantic University Sport Basketball Championships.
This was Dal’s fifth victory over Saint Mary’s University this year. The Tigers were undefeated in four regular season games against their cross-town rivals.
“It’s a connection we’ve had since we’ve first played together. We’ve always had that one-two punch going,” said Kappos, who led the Tigers in scoring. “It helps to have a guy to help spread that floor, and it makes our plays a lot easier.”
Kappos and Veinot picked up 18 and 15 points, respectively, in the Tigers’ 84-64 semi-final romp versus the Saint Mary’s University Huskies.
Veinot assisted on six of Kappos’ points. Kappos assisted one Veinot basket. Kappos made eight out of 11 shots from the field (8-11), including 2-3 from beyond the arc, and registered nine rebounds. Veinot shot 5-17 and had six rebounds.
“When I’m driving [to the net], I’m looking to score,” Veinot said. “But Slim [Kappos] is always my second option. If I beat my man and the play opens up, I’m throwing it up to Slim.”
Veinot was named this year’s AUS MVP, which was announced on Wednesday. Teammate Xavier Ochu was also honoured as the AUS Defensive Player of the Year. Ochu picked up a double-double in today’s game with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Dal’s coach, Rick Plato, won the AUS Coach of the Year award. From one award winner to another, Plato praised Veinot’s importance in such a big game.
“He runs the show out there,” Plato said. “He might have forced things a little too much today, but as he goes, we go.”
SMU began the game by taking three offensive fouls in the first few minutes, which allowed Dal to jump ahead by nine points. Shamar Burrows’ four rebounds in the first five minutes for Dal were also a huge help. The Tigers would maintain a steady lead and were up 19-13 after one quarter.
Veinot’s playmaking prowess was on full display in the first half: five of his game-high seven assists came before halftime.
Late in the second quarter, Veinot assisted on two Kappos scores: the first a no-look dish for a layup, and then a pass for a thunderous slam dunk. This pushed the Tigers’ lead to 34-23, their largest of the half.
Dal led 40-30 at the half. Fifteen of SMU’s points came off the hands of AUS Second Team All-Star Johneil Johnson, matching his point total from SMU’s Friday quarter-final against the Memorial University Sea Hawks. Johnson finished the game with 24 points, which led his team.
Fourth year Alex Carson led Dal in scoring with nine points at the half. Also a Second-Team All-Star, Carson finished the game with 15.
Mirroring last season
SMU came out flying in the third quarter with five straight points. The Huskies had a 19-1 regular-season record last season, before falling to Dal in the AUS final. Now that Dal was playing with an identical regular season record, the pressure was on them to not allow SMU to flip the script.
“I told them the score was 0-0 heading into the second half,” Plato said. “It’s playoffs. Everybody’s 0-0; our 19 wins don’t mean a damn thing anymore. We have to keep doing the things we’ve been doing all along that make us successful.”
Veinot broke SMU’s run with a three, his only bucket from downtown in the game, but arguably his most important score because it slowed the Huskies’ momentum.
“[Veinot’s] been giving a lot [of production] and, in turn, I expect the world from him. To me, he’s the best player in the country.” Plato said.
SMU’s Qyemah Gibson tried to bring his team back into it with a massive slam dunk a couple of minutes after, followed by a huge roar from the SMU cheering section next to the basket. Kappos immediately responded on the next Dal possession with a dunk of his own. The opposing Dal cheering section gave a comparably rowdy cheer.
A huge individual effort for a layup from Ochu brought the score to 66-41, the largest lead of the game at the time. SMU’s Kordeiro James hit a three before time expired in the third quarter to cut the score to 66-44.
Early in the fourth quarter, Dal extended their lead to 72-44, their largest of the game. However, the Tigers picked up five fouls in the first seven minutes of the quarter, which helped SMU go on an 11-2 run.
Dal still maintained at least a 16 point lead throughout the fourth, and a second Veinot-to-Kappos alley-oop with two minutes left virtually sealed the win.
Dal’s win gives them a shot to win their fifth AUS title in six seasons. They will face the winner of the second semi-final, which features the third-ranked University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds and the second-ranked Saint Francis-Xavier University X-men. St. FX is the only team to beat the Tigers in regular season play this year.
Dal already has tomorrow’s championship game in mind.
“It’s definitely great. We’ve always had that dream to win the national championship, but for now, we’re taking it one game at a time to get there,” Kappos said.
“We’re super excited to play a good UNB or St. FX team, and we look forward to the challenge,” Veinot said.