By Thomas Becker
The Panthers may have dropped the game against the UNB Varsity Reds 88-80, but on Saturday night they showed fans growth by out-hustling their opponent and putting forth the effort that championships are built on.
"I'm really, really proud of how we competed today," said Panthers head coach Darrell Glenn. "I didn't think we competed the way we needed to yesterday, but today we really came out and worked hard and I'm really proud of that."
UPEI's defence and effort was on full display, as they didn't allow anything easy for the undefeated Varsity Reds (4-0), who shot just 25 per cent from the field in the first. Still, UNB led 16-12 after one behind Will Legere's six points.
Their stifling defence continued in the second, where they took their first lead of the game. Moshe Wadley found Dakelle Brooks leaking out for the breakaway layup as the Panthers (0-4) led 22-21 midway through the quarter. Brooks led the way, scoring seven of his 15 points in the frame.
"We think we have some athletes who can get up and go in transition," said Glenn. "We haven't really been effective with that, but it is a strength of our team and we have to learn how to make better decisions."
The Panthers seemed to gain confidence on the offensive end after that, as they pushed the lead to 27-21. But the seasoned Varsity Reds responded with a 7-1 run to square it up at 28 with a minute and change remaining. After UNB retook the lead, Amin Suleman drained the long-range buzzer beater to knot it up 33 at halftime.
After UNB started the second half on a 7-2 run, the Panthers fought back to tie it again at 43 on a triple by Wadley and Brooks' hoop and the harm.
The back and forth affair continued with each team's go-to players – Javon Masters and Milorad Sedlarevic – draining offsetting threes. Every time the Varsity Reds threw a punch, the Panthers punched back, but a furious run in the final minute of the third gave UNB the 64-56 lead. Subway Player of the Game, Javon Masters was the catalyst in the quarter, scoring 12 of his game-high 25 points.
After Wadley collected his fifth foul, the Varsity Reds made a powerful push early in the fourth to go up by as much as 11. However, Sedlarevic wasn't ready to give in, as he responded with back-to-back triples, trimming the deficit to four. The fourth-year forward finished with a team-high 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting.
A Samy Mohamed three cut it to one, but Masters wasn't going to let the game slip away. In the final minute, he delivered a big three-point play to put them up by four, all but sealing the game 88-80.
"I'll tell you what, it's the first game where I thought we really came together as a team and played a 40-minute game – both defensively and offensively," said Glenn.