By Thomas Becker
The Acadia Axemen erased any chance of an upset Saturday night, as they outscored the Panthers 29-13 in a dominant third quarter en route to an 88-78 win.
In the decisive frame, the Axmen – known for their proficient shooting – caught fire and never let up, turning a six-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth.
Nick De Palma scored eight of his 19 points in the crucial 10 minutes, while Subway Player of the Game, Ben Miller chipped in with seven of his 15. Miller also recorded a double-double with 13 rebounds to go along with seven assists and five steals.
"It all started on the defensive end," Miller said. "They got too many good looks in the first half and then we tightened up on defence and contested every shot in the second."
With the addition of D'Adrian Allen – who missed the first six games due to injury – to the lineup, the Panthers (0-7) looked dangerous on the floor and it translated early on the scoreboard as they jumped to a 6-0 lead. But it was their impressive defence that really stuck out, as they held the sharpshooting Axemen (6-1) to just 22.2 per cent shooting in the quarter.
Vernelle Johnson came off the bench and provided a lift with six points to lead his team, as they took the quarter 19-12.
But Acadia – the U Sports No. 10 ranked team – is nationally ranked for a reason and swiftly cut the deficit to as few as two in the opening minutes of the second. However the resilient Panthers responded with a 6-0 run of their own for the 31-23 advantage.
"We have a target on our back now and it's something we have to learn to play with," Miller said. "We went 1-1 this weekend and that's not how we want our weekends to look like."
Each time the Axemen made a run, the Panthers punched back and held a 43-37 lead at halftime. After a quiet first quarter, Eric Nissen single-handedly kept his team alive, scoring 13 of his game-high 21 points in the second. Samy Mohamed, meanwhile, countered with nine of his own on 4-of-5 shooting from the field.
Following the break, the poor shooting percentages quickly turned around. Acadia started connecting on their shots, outscoring their opponent 16-10 early in the third to tie the game at 53 a side.
After a Mohamed triple reclaimed the lead for the Panthers, De Palma and Miller drilled back-to-back threes for the Axemen, who took their first lead of the game 59-56. De Palma continued to torch the Panthers, scoring eight in the quarter to propel his team to a 66-56 lead after three.
"I felt we wore their defence down a bit in third," Miller said. "We got comfortable in their zone and got our shooters some good looks."
Once the lead was theirs, the Axemen – led by Mason Middaugh's 10 fourth-quarter points – never looked back as the veteran team kept their composure and took care of business 88-78. Middaugh finished with 19 points on the night.
The Panthers hit the hardwood again in the New Year, when they travel to St. FX to take on the X-Men on Jan. 6 at 8 p.m.