By Thomas Becker
Don't count the UPEI Panthers out just yet. In what was arguably their best performance of the season, the Panthers handed the third-place St. FX X-Men a 94-69 loss Friday night.
UPEI (3-9) put the game away midway through the fourth quarter with a furious run. The X-Men (6-6), trailing 70-59, called a timeout to regroup and make one last push, but that did little to help, as the Panthers reeled off 10 more points and made it 80-59. They scored 33 points in the frame and turned a close game into a one-sided affair.
In his first game off the bench, Jamesley Jerome put on a show. The sophomore forward put up a career-high 27 points and 15 rebounds for the double-double.
"It's no difference whether I come off the bench or start," said Jerome, who was named the Subway Player of the Game. "We're all putting in the same effort and we all deserve playing time."
Head coach Darrell Glenn was happy to see 94 points on the scoreboard, but was more impressed with his team's defensive intensity.
"I'm pleased with how we competed for 40 minutes," he said. "I thought defensively we were pretty good. We had some momentary lapses but we held them to 30 points at halftime and they ended up with 69."
Rookie Magdi Tiea showed off his defensive ability with six blocks. He also had 16 points and seven rebounds. Elijah Miller continued to impress with 16 points, five assists, five rebounds and three steals, while teammates Dakelle Brooks and Emmanuel Ndatuje finished with 12 and 10 points apiece.
Both teams struggled early, as shots wouldn't drop. Miller broke the scoreless drought three minutes in with a layup, before St. FX finally scored with a pair of free throws by Dondre Reddick.
After an Azaro Roker layup made it an 8-5 game, Ndatuje drilled a three followed by a Jerome layup underneath the basket to pull the Panthers ahead 10-8.
The Panthers closed the quarter on a mini 5-2 run on a Jack MacAulay three, followed by a Miller runner at the buzzer to give them a 17-14 lead.
Jerome and Avan Nava went mano-a-mano, each trading baskets in a 28-20 game. Nava was the high-point man for St. FX, finishing with 22 points, six assists and four rebounds in the loss. Roker added 17 points and 10 rebounds for the double-double, while Reddick was third X-Man with double figures at 12.
Adam Ryan came in in the final two minutes of the half and connected on a three for the Panthers, which was followed up by another one from Ndatuje, as they pushed the lead to 36-24. Back-to-back triples the other way cut the deficit back down to six, but Tiea added the hoop and the harm to give his team the 39-30 advantage at halftime.
Glenn didn't like what he saw in the first 41 seconds of the third and used a quick timeout after his team gave up two easy layups.
"We didn't start out the way we wanted to in the third quarter, but we responded for the first time," Glenn said.
The message was clearly delivered, as Jerome put up three consecutive layups to push the lead back up to nine, 45-36. Roker scored six straight, followed by a Nava drive to the basket to make it a two-point game, but UPEI closed the quarter on a 13-7 run and took a 61-53 advantage into the fourth.
Late game scenarios have hampered the Panthers all season long, but tonight they found a way to close it out.
"When our shots aren't falling, we stop trusting the offence and we go 1-on-1 or 1-on-5," Jerome said. "We just got tired of that and we needed a win, so we just came out and played like a team."
Following a Roker three-point effort, the Panthers attacked the rim and scored on a Jerome tip-in and a Brooks layup, as they extended the lead to 70-59 with 7:28 remaining, forcing St. FX to call a timeout. UPEI came out of the break and put up 10 straight points and broke the game wide open, before closing the deal 94-69.
The Panthers look to make it back-to-back wins when they host the X-Men again on Saturday (Jan. 25).
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan