By Thomas Becker
Rookie point guard Avan Nava came up big down the stretch, as he led the St. FX X-Men past the UPEI Panthers 85-76.
In a two-point game with two minutes remaining, Nava got a defender to leave his feet and pulled up for the midrange jumper. He added another one 43 seconds later to push their lead to 79-73, all but sealing the win.
Nava scored a team-high 20 points and was one of five X-Men (7-6) to reach double digits. Justin Andrew had 16 points and five assists, while Dondre Reddick put up 15 off the bench. Azaro Roker recorded his fourth straight double-double with 13 points and 14 rebounds. Thomas Legallais was a rebound shy of a double-double, but finished his night with 10 points, nine boards, three assists and three steals.
"My teammates helped me a lot down the stretch. They gave me the confidence to shoot the ball," said Nava, who was named the Subway Player of the Game. "We did a good job of pushing the ball up the court and that helped me get open looks."
St. FX opened up a 7-2 lead following a pair of free throws from Andrew, but the Panthers (3-10) responded in a big way with the three ball. Jack MacAulay, Elijah Miller and Dakelle Brooks all connected from deep to pull their team ahead 17-14.
The X-Men closed the quarter on a 9-3 run and carried 23-20 lead into the second. Andrew had seven early, but was matched by Miller and Brooks, who also had seven apiece.
The visitors looked like they were about to break away after a Roker layup midway through the second, but UPEI came back with an Adam Ryan layup and two free throws from Jamesley Jerome to make it a 35-31 game. They trailed 43-37 at halftime, despite Miller's 15 points. The rookie point guard had another great game and finished the night with 20 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. Brooks and Jerome added 18 each in the loss.
Jerome capped off five straight points early in the third with a layup on a great feed from Miller which trimmed the deficit to two. But a Nava three-pointer and pair of free throws from Atik Gialo pushed St. FX's lead to 50-43.
After the Panthers cut it to four, the X-Men closed the quarter on a 7-2 run for the 61-50 advantage. Roker had all five of his third-quarter points in that stretch.
A quick surge to begin the fourth helped UPEI get back in the game. After Jerome showed off his soft touch with a floater, Miller stole the ball off the inbound pass, found MacAulay across the court where he drilled the open triple. The three-point sniper drilled another triple following a quick timeout by St. FX, as they whittled the lead down to three.
In 66-64 game, Andrew connected on a big three-pointer and Roker added a lay-in, as St. FX nursed a seven-point advantage.
Each time the Panthers clawed within two, their opponent countered with a big shot. With ice water in his veins, Nava put their opponent away with two midrange shots, as the X-Men prevailed 85-76.
Moving forward, Nava wants to see his team play a more consistent brand of basketball, which was exploited by UPEI over the weekend.
"We just have to control the game better and keep our lead when we have it."
The Panthers travel to Fredericton next Saturday where they'll take on the UNB Reds for the first time this season.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan