Much ado has been made of the UPEI Panthers’ starting five during their recent rise to the top of the Atlantic University Sport standings.
But it is the strong play off the bench of two Maritime-born players that has turned a good team into a great team.
Forwards Geoff Doane of St. Margaret’s Bay N.S., and Aaron Robbins of Stratford, P.E.I., are quietly turning in excellent sophomore seasons with the Panthers, both playing a key role in the varsity team’s current 11-3 record.
The Panthers welcome the 6-7 Dalhousie Tigers tonight to the Chi-Wan Young Sports Centre.
Game time is 8 p.m.
Doane is averaging 7.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in just under 20 minutes per game.
Robbins is averaging 3.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 14.4 minutes per contest.
Robbins was last year’s rookie of the year, but both players were named to the AUS all-rookie team last season.
“We have seven starters,” head coach Tim Kendrick said of his top seven players. “It works great. A lot of teams, when they sub, their scoring drops primarily. But not us. Both players really help us a lot.”
The same five players have started each of UPEI’s 14 games this season.
Manock Lual, Jermaine Duke and Donnie Moss start up front, with Terrance Brown and Jonathan Cooper in the backcourt.
Doane and Robbins typically enter the game together, replacing Duke and Moss at around the five-minute mark.
Knowing when they will enter the game, and for whom, allows them to become a lot more comfortable with their role, explained Kendrick.
“I feel in my comfort zone coming into the game with Aaron and knowing what we have to do for the team,” the 19-year-old said this week.
“My confidence is the highest it's been this year for sure. I feel my game has improved . . . not turning the ball over as much and just playing smarter.”
The 6-foot-5 Doane is a “Mr. Everything” with an ability to score and rebound effectively, said Kendrick.
“He’s comfortable at offense and defense and can play anywhere,” said the coach. “He’s been real strong the last four games.”
Doane, a business student, said that after a slow start, he’s found his role, coming off the bench and providing energy.
“The biggest thing is pressure,” he said. “Our team knows that when we play with high energy, not many teams can play with us.”
Robbins grew up a Panthers fan in Stratford.
“It’s great playing in front of my family and friends, and for a team I watched growing up,” the 19-year-old told The Guardian.
Now in his second year, the 6-foot-7 arts student said he feels more comfortable on the court and finds his skills progressing after every practice.
“Me and Geoff know that our job is to keep up the pace and do our job, like crash the boards,” he said.
Kendrick said Robbins’ big frame helps create defensive mismatches since he is tall enough to defend post players, but also open up the floor on offence with his shooting ability.
“He’s a big kid that can shoot the three,” said Kendrick.
Tonight, the Panthers will host the Tigers in a four-point game that also marks UPEI's second-last regular season home game this year.
The UPEI men’s team has not lost a game at home this season, going 8-0.
“It’s huge,” said Kendrick of possibility to grab four points. “It’s like playing two games. It puts a little more emphasis on the game. We want to win and keep the separation between us and Acadia.”
With 26 points, Acadia trails UPEI by just two points in the standings with two games in hand.
Nationally-ranked St. F.X. is tied for third with Cape Breton with 22 points.
When you’re leading the league, one of the things I find very important, you have to get your wins at home.”