The UNB Varsity Reds will be shooting for a first-round playoff bye Saturday night.
The V-Reds beat the UPEI Panthers 102-87 in an Atlantic University Sport men’s basketball conference four-pointer before about 800 fans at the Richard J. Currie Center.
If the V-Reds can repeat the feat at 8 p.m. Saturday against the visiting Acadia Axemen, they’ll secure second place heading into the AUS championships next weekend in Halifax.
The Panthers held Javon Masters to two points in the first 12 minutes and 5-for-20 from the field, but he went 13-for-13 from the charity stripe and finished with 23 points, nine assists and six rebounds in 34 minutes.
The Panthers now await the result of Saturday's match between UNB and Acadia. A UNB win will knock UPEI out of second place. A UPEI win on Friday night would have clinched that second spot and a bye into the AUS semis.
Masters is averaging 28.3 points per game and has all but officially locked up his third straight CIS scoring crown in as many years,
But the Axemen are on the front burner for Masters.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” he said. “They’re very rested and we went to their place last week and they kicked our you know what (105-88). We’ll be looking for some vengeance.”
Dalhousie, despite being upset 85-84 by Cape Breton on Jack MacAulay’s buzzer beater in overtime, has clinched first with a 13-7 record and 38 points. UPEI is 12-8 and has finished with 34 points. UNB and Acadia are both 11-8, but the V-Reds have 32 points compared to the Axemen’s 28.
With Masters slow out of the gate, Jesse Kendall connected for 15 of UNB’s first 30 points -- all from downtown -- and finished with 17 points. Matt Daley overcame two early fouls to mirror Masters with 23 points, six assists and eight boards in 30 minutes.
Mark Matheson grabbed seven rebounds and matched Kendall’s three-point barrage by going 5-for-6 for 15 points. Tyronn King added 11 points in 15 minutes.
“Jesse was shooting the ball extremely well,” Masters said. “I didn’t really shoot the ball well, going 5-for-20. I can definitely play better (Saturday) but this was a good overall team win for us.”
Brad States of Bathurst led the Panthers with 28 points -- including 26 of their first 54 -- but it was far from enough.
UPEI trailed 80-54 by then after falling behind 50-37 at halftime.
“Brad States is a helluva player,” Masters said. “He ate us up tonight but we held a lot of other guys in check.”
Amin Suleman added 18 points for the Panthers while Tyler Scott had a dozen to finish with 25.1 points per game, third behind Masters and Calgary’s Thomas Cooper (25.8).
“We didn’t come prepared to play,” States said. “It’s disappointing but we’re going to have a good week of practice, And whether we get that bye or not, we’re still going to try to get that AUS title.”
States said the Panthers were too loose defensively,
“Jesse Kendall got hot; he had a lot of open shots. That’s out fault. We gave that to him and he’s a good shooter. And Javon Masters is going to score his numbers every night, so we just didn’t do our job defensively.”
“It wasn’t a pretty game by any account,” UNB head coach Brent Baker said, “But you’re getting down to the stretch of the season where it’s (like) playoff basketball. And playoff basketball games are usually high drama and less efficiency.
“We executed a little bit better than them,” Baker said, “but our defence wasn’t anything to write home about. We kept reaching and picked up way too many fouls (31 to 25).”
Baker was pleased by 16-for-37 from long distance, though. The Panthers were only 4-for-20 hitting treys.
“When Jesse and Mark start banging shots ... listen, when we’re trading twos for threes, you can see the other team sag. It’s deflating.”
Bruce Halliwell, The Daily Gleaner