By Thomas Becker
"Trust the process."
It's a phrase made popular by the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers who use the saying as motivation to push through tough times and commit to getting better.
The UPEI Panthers (1-12) use a similar adage and on Saturday night, their hard work finally paid off as they captured their first win of the season 71-63 against the Cape Breton Capers (2-11).
For rookie head coach Darrell Glenn, it's a feeling he'll never forget – his first win as a Panther (which also happened to fall on his son's birthday). But the humble bench boss gave credit to his players, for not only believing in him and his system, but also believing in each other through the many growing pains.
"I'm really happy for the guys," he said. "I'm really happy that we finally saw the fruits of our labour pay off. We've been trying to do some things and finally we did it and we got the vindication for it."
Glenn also gave kudos to his on and off the court leader, Milorad Sedlarevic, who put up a game-high 21 points (on 6-of-8 shooting, including 8-of-9 from the charity strike).
"He's been amazing. We've been hard on him, but the kid has bought in and he's worked extremely hard. He's trying his best to do what we're asking of him," Glenn said. "I'm really, really happy for him tonight that he was able to put this together."
Points aside, the fourth-year forward and Subway Player of the Game was just happy to come away with the 'W'.
"I don't even care about the points, the most important thing right now is wins," Sedlarevic said. "We still have a chance to make the playoffs. I don't care if I score two points or 20. If we win, that's all that matters."
With two evenly matched teams squaring off, emotions were high from the opening tip. Panther D'Adrian Allen and Caper Shacier Locke greeted each other with some shoving before players and officials separated them. Cape Breton used that fuel to rattle off seven straight points to go up 11-5.
"Everyone's trying to compete and win and when the crowd gets into it, you want to make those aggressive plays," said Allen, who finished with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double.
A deep three-pointer by Samy Mohamed capped off a 10-1 run for UPEI, as they carried a 15-14 lead into the second. Mohamed led all scorers with six in the frame and finished with 10.
After they surrendered the lead, a baseline dunk by Sedlarevic sparked the Panthers who scored five straight, giving them a 29-22 advantage. But Cape Breton buckled down on defence and was able to trim the deficit to two at the break, 32-30. Caper guard Osman Omar provided a lift off the bench with six points to inch his team closer, while Allen countered with six for UPEI.
The teams traded baskets to begin the third, before a Paul Watson triple gave Cape Breton a 41-39 lead. They'd give it right back before taking a 45-44 advantage into the fourth.
With the support of an excited home crowd and a win in their sights, the Panthers were determined to come out ahead. They hit their stride a minute and a half into the fourth when they kicked off a 10-0 run that lasted three minutes and put them up 58-52.
With a little over five minutes to spare, Sedlarevic and his team were not going to let this win slip away. Instead, their defence held strong and led to some easy transition baskets, including a thunderous dunk by No. 12 himself as the Panthers captured their first win 71-63.
"It feels good to come on the court and perform the way we did today," said Allen. "With a young team it's very tough to gel and play proper basketball, but we fought hard and competed and it feels good to get that win."
The Panthers aim for the weekend sweep as they host the Capers again on Jan. 28 at 3 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan