By Kirk Jessome
As hosts of the 2019 U SPORTS Final 8 Men’s Basketball Championship, the Tigers team came into the 2018-19 season looking to get back on top in the AUS conference.
The Tigers threatened their opponents from every position this year, thanks to the shooting touch of Alex Carson, the work in the paint from Sascha Kappos, and the emergence of Keevan Veinot as one of the premier point guards in the country.
After going 8-1 in the pre-season, the Tigers earned a 4-3 record heading into the Christmas break, without Keevan Veinot in the line up who was out due to injury.
Head coach Rick Plato reflects on Veinot’s injury as a bit of a ‘blessing in disguise’.
“Keevan missed six games and it allowed for the development of our other two guards, Jordan Brathwaite and Xavier Ochu, who needed to play the point,” he says. “Their development was the number one priority coming into the season. It made us a stronger team, and once we were healthy, our confidence grew and we went on our winning streak.”
After dropping three tough four-point games in the month of January, the Tigers rallied to win the next eight in a row going into the conference championship.
The Tigers 14-6 record earned them a third-place seed in the conference championship tournament. Their play throughout the season, secured them a spot in the U SPORTS Top 10 each week since the season began and they went into the AUS championship ranked seventh nationally.
A decisive 83-59 win over Memorial in the quarter-final round pitted the Tigers against the UNB Reds in the semifinal. The Tigers played very well defensively in that match up to earn an 81-75 victory to move on to face Saint Mary’s in the final.
Defence was again the name of the game for the Tigers until Carson stepped up in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter to drain three shots from deep to secure their fourth AUS title in five years, with a 66-55 win over the Huskies.
The next weekend, the fifth-seeded Tigers faced the No. 4 UBC Thunderbirds in the U SPORTS championship quarter-final round. Their defence was the star of the show once more, limiting the Thunderbirds to just 18 points in the first half, to eventually take the game 74-65.
The Tigers rode that momentum into the national semifinal against Carleton. For 36 minutes the game couldn't have been tighter, but in the final four minutes, the Ravens made the tough shots when they needed them most, taking the game 76-65.
In Sunday’s bronze medal game against Ryerson, a cold third quarter of shooting just 18% from the field resulted in a scoring gap that the Tigers were unable to make up, forcing them to settle for a fourth place finish with an 84-66 loss to the Rams.
With only a handful of players leaving the program this year, the team hopes to once again be a medal threat at the national level next season.