By Thomas Becker
Photo Janessa Hogan
The Memorial Sea-Hawks rallied from a 12-point deficit to defeat the UPEI Panthers 85-82 Saturday night.
Down nine entering the fourth, the Vasilije Curcic led Sea-Hawks held the Panthers to just 22.2 per cent shooting in the quarter as Memorial outscored their opponent 29-17 to steal the win.
"I thought we dug down and made some big stops when we needed to," said Sea-Hawks head coach Peter Benoite.
Curcic scored 11 of his game-high 28 points in the quarter, while Daniel Gordon chipped in with 11 of his 24 points to help the big man in the middle.
"They stepped up, made plays and knocked down big shots, putting us in a position to win," Benoite said.
Each team is headed in opposite directions after Saturday's result as the Sea-Hawks improved to 6-1, while the Panthers fell to 1-6.
Benoite has preached defensive toughness throughout the year and so far it's paid off for the Sea-Hawks, who missed the playoffs last season with a disappointing 7-13 record.
"UPEI is an offensive juggernaut and it's so hard to contain them, but we beared down in the fourth and did a better job of positioning ourselves and not committing fouls."
Both squads struggled from the field early on as they squared off in a 6-6 stalemate in the opening six minutes.
With Tyler Scott on the bench, the Sea-Hawks went to work and rallied for a 7-0 run before Mark Matheson got UPEI on the board again.
The Panthers finally found their rhythm late in the quarter when Matheson and Amin Suleman connected on three consecutive triples to cut the deficit to 19-17, but Memorial responded quickly, taking the quarter 22-17.
Memorial pushed the lead to 26-17 to begin the second, but back-to-back treys by Scott cut the deficit to three, forcing the Sea-Hawks to call a timeout.
Scott continued to dominate his defender as he took over in the quarter, scoring eight of his 14 points.
Following Shavon Gayle's game-tying layup, Samy Mohamed connected on a long-range jumper to give UPEI their first lead since the opening possession of the first quarter. Mohamed scored eight of his team-high 19 points in the second.
The Panthers continued their strong play with Scott on the bench as they helped their star teammate out by extending the lead to 43-35 by halftime.
Memorial opened the third quarter with a quick 10-5 run, trimming the deficit to 48-45. But the Panthers responded with three consecutive baskets by Dut Dut to push the lead to nine.
However, the league's best team wasn't going down without a fight. In a span of three minutes, the Sea-Hawks cut it to 59-54, forcing the Panthers to regroup.
Following the timeout, UPEI settled down and carried a 65-56 advantage into the final quarter.
Curcic's inside presence was felt in the fourth as he clogged the lane on defence, making life difficult on the Panthers' offence.
Feeding off their smothering defence, Memorial pounced on the Panthers with a 10-0 run less than three minutes into the quarter as the Sea-Hawks jumped ahead 66-65.
The back and forth affair continued late in the fourth until Curcic and Gordon took over. Down four with only two minutes remaining, Gordon found Curcic under the basket for back-to-back layups, giving Memorial an 80-79 edge. Gordon and Davion Parnsalu then iced the game with free throws for the 85-82 final.
The Panthers continue their homestand Nov. 27 when they face the Sea-Hawks in the second game of a back-to-back. Game time is 3 p.m. at the Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre.