BY JOHN DECOSTE
Kings County Advertiser/Register
In a result that shocked pretty much all the AUS basketball community, the Acadia Axemen are off to this weekend’s CIS Final Eight after a thrilling 83-81 overtime win over Cape Breton March 5 in Halifax.
An exhausted Acadia squad went on to drop a lopsided 78-47 decision to Dalhousie in the AUBC final but, by winning the games they had to win, the Axemen claimed a berth in this weekend’s national tournament.
Acadia, which entered the AUS Final Six tournament ranked fourth, opened with an 81-61 quarterfinal victory March 4 over the fifth-ranked UNB Varsity Reds. Acadia led UNB 25-22 after one quarter, won a low-scoring second quarter 15-9 to lead 40-31 at halftime, and led 65-44 after three quarters.
Owen Klassen and Anthony Sears finished with 22 points each for Acadia, and Klassen added 11 rebounds. Justin Boutilier added 12 points, and Tyler Lutton contributed nine points, seven rebounds and five assists. Andrew Wright had 14, Alex DesRoches 13 and Daniel Quirion 12 for UNB, which shot 35.2 per cent from the floor to Acadia’s 51.5 per cent, and lost the rebounding battle 48-39.
Acadia’s semifinal against Cape Breton ended up being a real classic, though it certainly didn’t start out that way - particularly for Acadia.
Cape Breton led 20-14 after one quarter, but the Axemen won the second quarter 22-18 to trail by only two, 38-36 at halftime. The Capers won the third quarter 22-15 and, at one point early in the fourth quarter, held a 13-point lead.
Acadia, however, refused to fold, chipping away at the lead and tying the score at 68 on a Lutton tip-in with just under a minute left. On Acadia’s next possession, an alert Klassen found a wide-open Alex McLaughlin open for an uncontested lay-up to give the Axemen the lead. Paris Carter’s two-pointer tied the score at 70 and forced overtime.
Cape Breton took a 74-70 lead in overtime, but the Capers, who made some questionable shooting decisions down the stretch, couldn’t hold it. A Boutilier three-pointer brought Acadia back to within one, and after an exchange of foul shots, a pair of Boutilier free throws tied the score at 75.
After James Dorsey made one of two free throws for the Capers, Sears converted a traditional three-point play to give Acadia a 78-76 lead.
Axemen Lachlan Gale was fouled on the rebound of a missed shot, and made a pair of free throws for a four-point lead. Cape Breton fought back to tie, but Sears made the two free throws that clinched the victory.
Boutilier finished with 24 points, a trio of three-pointers, eight rebounds and 7-7 free throws off the bench for the Axemen, who finished the game with Filgiano, Klassen and Lutton all on the sidelines with five fouls. Klassen added 17 points and Sears 14 for Acadia, which ended up shooting 43.5 per cent from the floor to just 33.7 per cent for the Capers.
Carter had 24 points, Dorsey 19 and Phil Nkrumah 15 points and 18 rebounds for Cape Breton, which won the rebounding battle 58-50 and had a 31-15 edge in offensive rebounds.
After that excitement, March 6’s final against Dalhousie, which had advanced with a 79-68 win over St. F.X., was anticlimactic. Led by an outstanding performance from game and tournament MVP Simon Farine, the Tigers jumped out to a 24-6 lead after one quarter and were never really headed.
Farine ended up with 24 points, five rebounds, six assists and eight steals as the Dal defense forced Acadia into 22 turnovers. Juleous Grant added 14 points and Joe Schow 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Klassen, who attempted just eight shots, finished with 15 points and Sears 14 for Acadia, which shot just 30.8 per cent for the game against the stifling defense of the Tigers.
As the most unlikely of surprise entries, the Axemen enter the Final Eight as the eighth seed and will open the three-day tournament March 11 at 1 p.m. against the top-seed UBC Thunderbirds.
However, as head coach Steve Baur replied following the win over Cape Breton, when asked if he had a preference of who he would like to play in the final, “it doesn’t matter.
“We’re just happy to be where we are.”