This Saturday, the Athletic Centre will host a grudge match in ACAA basketball. It is the second of three games between the top two teams in the league and the first since a controversial call resulted in a Mount Allison overtime defeat two weeks ago.
On Sunday, Jan. 22, Mt. A’s men’s basketball team travelled to Halifax to play the team’s first matchup this season against the MSVU Mystics, and the game lived up to expectations.
The Mounties were down seven points at half, but fought hard in the second half, putting themselves in position to win with a late lead. Up six points with a minute left on the clock, a foul was called against starting point guard Jesse Balser, which resulted in a three-point play and Balser fouling out.
In a text message, Balser said that the foul call “came as a shock, mostly because it’s rare that a ref calls a soft foul at the very end of a physical game.”
In wake of the call and without their starting point guard, momentum shifted against the Mounties. MSVU tied the score with a late basket, sending the game to overtime. In overtime, a shell-shocked Mt. A team failed to respond to the pace set by the Mystics and lost by 14 points.
Head coach Steve Chapman did not agree with the late call.
“That was a terrible call, absolutely terrible,” he said. “With all the effort we put to get back into that [game], it was probably one that was stolen from us.”
The team has since rebounded from the loss and has won three games straight, including a hard-fought home win against a tough Crandall Chargers team this past Saturday.
That win was followed by a road victory against UNB Saint John on Sunday.
The Mounties and Mystics became the frontrunners for first place in January, after Holland College was forced to forfeit six games due to an academically ineligible player on their roster. As a result, the Mounties sport a 14-1 record, identical to that of the Mystics.
The importance of the next game is not lost on the players.
“Whoever wins this game is clear-cut first in the league,” fifth-year forward Alex Chisholm said.
The race for top spot is made all the more important because the first-place team will avoid a semi-final in the ACAA playoffs against Holland College, a perennial powerhouse that was ranked first in the country before being stripped of six wins.
Led on the scoresheet by veterans Chisholm, Brad Fuller and rookie standout Thomas LeGallis, there is no shortage of scoring on the Mounties team. That being said, Chapman attributes their success to a winning work ethic and players who do not always show up on the score sheet.
“The key for us is Jesse Balser, every night, [the] unsung hero. He just goes out and does the dirty work,” Chapman said. He also praised the team’s depth off the bench. “We have a bunch of guys who just get out there and do the job,” he said.
Chapman has high hopes for Saturday’s matchup between Mt. A and MSVU, the top-two defensive teams in the ACAA.
“We don’t have a real size advantage over them, they don’t [have one over us]. Their guards are athletic, our guards are athletic, it’s two carbon copies,” he said.
The Mounties will look for an edge with Rodreke Joseph’s return to the team.
“We don’t have any [other] shot-blockers but Rod – he is a shot-blocker and even if he is not blocking shots, he’s messing guys up,” Chisholm said.
The Mystics are led in scoring by rookie Ashton Slawter, who this past weekend made 10 of 15 shots from three-point range en route to a 40-point effort, which saw the Mystics beat the Holland Hurricanes in overtime, 95 to 91.
Chisholm is confident that a large hometown crowd will provide an edge for the Mounties.
“We really feed off that. Against Crandall it was crazy, the emotion in the gym was so high,” he said.
Going into Saturday, the fifth-year forward entering his last month of college basketball has confidence in his team.
“We know what we have to do and we are going to make adjustments from last game,” Chisholm said. “I’m predicting a Mounties win.”
The men’s game tips off at 7 p.m. on Saturday after the women play at 5 p.m.