Edmonton, AB – Who said April 1st couldn’t have some March Madness?
The #1 Brock Badgers and the #8 Saskatchewan Huskies faced off in the opening game of the 2022 U SPORTS Men’s Basketball Final 8. After a 95-75 win over Queen’s, the Badgers entered the game to take the Wilson Cup as Ontario champions, while the Saskatchewan Huskies took the Canada West bronze medal.
After tipoff, you could be forgiven for thinking the Brock Badgers, who won the Wilson Cup just a week ago, stayed in St. Catherines. Brock struggled out of the gate, missing their first six consecutive shots as the Huskies seemed to outwork them on both sides of the ball. With five seconds to go in the first, Alexander Dewar hit a contested three to push the Huskie lead to 22-9 after one quarter.
“I think everyone in that locker room wants that first half back,” Brock head coach Willy Maginat said.
It was more of the same in the second quarter for the Huskies. Marquavian Stephens finished off a two-on-one fast break to push the Saskatchewan lead to 14 with 6:25 to go, and Nervens Demosthene followed up a few minutes later to grow the lead to 16. According to their coach, the Badgers’ slow start was not because they overlooked the eight-seed Huskies.
“We never looked at the number one seed as anything; we knew Saskatchewan was a really good basketball team,” Maginat said.
After halftime, the Badgers seemed to finally turn on the gear that saw them go 14-1 in the OUA regular season to the Wilson Cup. A lot of it was thanks to the play of fourth-year guard Kascius Small-Martin who finished with 21 points.
“Brock is a great team; we knew they were going to make their run, we wanted to stay positive, just keep doing what we were doing, just keep fighting,” said Marquavian Stephens.
A Tajinder Lall, three with 45 seconds to go in the third, gave the Badgers their first lead at 50-49, but it was 51-50 for Saskatchewan heading into the final 10 minutes.
Midway through the quarter, Stephens saw nothing but open net in front of him, but he blew the dunk and watched the Badgers go down the quarter, and Tajinder Lall hit a three to give the Badgers a 57-56 lead.
As the clock ticked towards zeros, the tension ramped up as the teams traded leads. Marquavian Stephens hit a three to tie it at 69 but missed the go-ahead free throw. Demosthene found an open lane to the basket to give the Huskies a 72-71 lead, but with 26.4 seconds to go, a pair of Tajinder Lall free-throws gave it back to Brock. Lall finished with 26 points on the day, leading the game for the Badgers.
It was Marquavian Stephens doing what he had done all game, getting the drive to give Saskatchewan the 74-73 lead with under 10 seconds to go. Three more free throws were tacked on for Saskatchewan, and that would be how it ended 77-73, the upset complete.
The Badgers move to the consolation side of the bracket. In contrast, Saskatchewan moves on to play on Saturday evening against the winner of the third quarterfinal matchup between the host Alberta Golden Bears and the RSEQ Champion McGill Redbirds.
The quick turnaround for Brock means a quick refocus after a shocking defeat. “We’ve gotta start all over with a new team, whoever we play,” Maginat said. “We’re going to just focus on what we do, and we’re going to live with the outcome.”
For the Huskies, well, every tournament needs a Cinderella story, and at least for one more day, the Huskies will get to stay at the ball. As Stephens sees it,
“From the beginning of the year we knew this was a great opportunity the team had, and it took a lot of hard work.”
COVER PHOTO: HuskiesAthletics