Edmonton, AB – It’s the game with the lowest stakes, but playing in the fifth-place game of a national championship might be the most difficult emotionally.
Playing in this game means balancing a delicate mix of disappointment and yet also hope. The heartbreak of knowing that you have no chance at a medal no matter how well you play. Yet, at the same time, knowing that you have one more game to play together, one last moment for your season, one last ride for the seniors who’ve spent more nights on the court than anyone.
Ultimately it was not the win they were hoping to leave Edmonton with, but the Dalhousie Tigers get to head home on at least a relative high with an 83-59 win over the Victoria Vikes in the U SPORTS Men’s Final 8 Fifth-Place Game.
The afternoon tipped off in front of a relatively sparse crowd, at least compared to the sellout that ended the semifinals a night ago, but the one-third full Saville Centre still had a good buzz. That came thanks to the travelling fan support of both the Victoria Vikes and Dalhousie Tigers. The Tigers’ support coming from Halifax was especially impressive. About 30 Dalhousie Tigers fans (including Alex Carson’s family, who found themselves a spot right behind the media table all weekend) scattered across the Saville Centre but cheered well beyond their numbers.
They had two main people to cheer for, though, and it was the same two people that the Dalhousie Tigers basketball program has been cheering for, for nearly a half-decade. In their final games as Tigers, Alex Carson and Keevan Veinot looked to cement a legacy that saw them rack up countless accolades and three AUS titles, with one more win for the Dalhousie faithful.
It looked like Dalhousie was well on their way early as the Tigers could not seem to miss in the first quarter. The quarter started even, but by the time Alex Carson got on the board with his first jumper with 3:30 to go, it was 19-8, and Carson followed it up on the following position with a triple to give the Tigers the early 14 point lead 22-8.
A pair of late threes from Diego Maffia helped cut the lead to 26-16, where it held after one quarter.
The tournament had mixed results for Maffia, who struggled mightily in the Vikes quarterfinal loss to the Ravens and put up a reasonably successful line against McGill a day ago. After winning against the Redbirds, Maffia understood his 8-27 line from the 3-point range across two games but was firm that “My motto is never to stop shooting no matter what, whether I have two points or twenty points.”
It was a much better performance for the second-year Brazilian in the first half as he led the Vikes with 13 points on 3-5, shooting from three on the way to 18 on the game.
The second quarter saw the Vikes improve thanks to Maffia’s shooting and eight points from Matthew Ellis. They found themselves trailing by 12 at halftime, thanks to one more fantastic performance from Veinot.
The veteran did what he has many nights prior for the Tigers, shooting 4/6 from deep for 19 points in the first half, including right after the Vikes cut the lead to single digits, nailing a three from seemingly four feet behind the line. The Tigers went into the break with a 46-34 lead.
It was more of the same after halftime. It was another senior this time in guard Shamar Burrows who stepped up with eleven points and two assists in the quarter as part of his 17 on the game.
He picked up his own offensive rebound on final drive of the third quarter and put it back to push the Tigers lead up to a game high 23 at 73-50 and that pretty much sealed things up for Dalhousie.
It was a testament to the resiliency of the Tigers to come back from the heartbreak of Friday night to finish in fifth according to head coach Rick Plato.
“We beat two out of the three conference champions out of the country, we beat the best out of Ontario, we best the best out of Canada West, it said a lot about how tough how committed and dedicated, how special this group was” Plato said.
The most important of the fourth quarter came when Alex Carson checked out with under two minutes to play and Keevan Veinot followed him a minute later. Both being met by a hug from coach Plato.
“It’s been a privilege and honour to coach two super kids like that, I think they’re the best pair in the country,” Plato said. “I love them both, they mean a lot to me”
To play in the fifth-place game had to be a letdown for the Tigers. The hosted the Final 8 in 2019 where they fell in the bronze medal game to the Ryerson Rams, before heading to Ottawa in 2020 and making it all the way to the National final where they fell to the Carleton Ravens.
If you asked any of the Dalhousie fans who made the six hour trek west to Edmonton though, one more chance to celebrate a win this season, and one last time to celebrate some of the best players to wear the black and gold is a pretty good consolation prize.
Cover Photo: Don Voaklander