By Thomas Becker
The UPEI Panthers looked in control, but a late second-quarter surge gave the St. FX X-Men all the momentum they'd need in a hard-fought 78-74 win.
The Panthers (3-8) were up 37-28 with 1:42 remaining in the half before a lapse in focus resulted in contested shots and a turnover, as the X-Men (4-7) quickly scored nine unanswered points and went into the break down just one.
That momentum carried into the third where St. FX took control, before UPEI battled back in the fourth to make it a game.
Azaro Roker, Justin Andrew and Daniel Passley all played big in the win and each finished with 17 points. Roker also added 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks to earn Subway Player of the Game honours.
Close games are nothing new to St. FX. Heading into this contest, they had lost four in a row – three of which were decided in the final moments, including a double overtime defeat – and had no intention of losing another one.
"This being a young team, we really needed this win," said X-Men head coach Steve Konchalski. "We expected a tough, emotional game and I'm glad we got it."
Before all the theatrics, it was St. FX who pounced on the Panthers first and opened up a 7-2 advantage.
UPEI countered with a 12-5 run, capped off by a beautiful transition alley-oop from Dakelle Brooks to Moshe Wadley to push them ahead 14-12. Amin Suleman was the catalyst in the extended run, scoring 10 of the 12 points. By the end of the first, the home team held a slim 19-17 edge.
Suleman opened the second with back-to-back treys, followed by a pair of baskets by Jamesley Jerome, as the Panthers extended their lead 29-19.
They looked strong heading toward the break, but a slip in focus allowed the X-Men to shave the deficit back to one, 37-36. Suleman led the way with16 first-half points and finished with a game-high 28.
Konchalski gave credit to Bradon Velocci, who was scoreless on the night, but gave his team a lift defensively in that important stretch.
"He doesn't really play a lot for this team, but he's a very tough defender and I thought he disrupted they're rhythm."
The Panthers shot just 26.7 per cent in the third and lost the offensive flow that worked in the first half. St. FX outscored UPEI 21-13, with the combination of Roker, Andrew and Passley scoring 14 of those points, as they carried a 57-50 advantage into the fourth.
Suleman was determined to get his team back in it and scored seven of their first nine points of the quarter. Milorad Sedlarevic followed that up with a big triple to give the Panthers their first lead since the opening minute of the third, 62-61. Tied at 67 apiece with 4:46 to spare, Andrew drilled a crowd-silencing triple that gave the X-Men the definitive lead, en route to the 78-74 win.
While Panthers head coach Darrell Glenn was pleased with his team's fight, the lack of execution down the stretch was tough to ignore.
"We didn't lose the game because of effort," he said. "Today there were key moments where we just lost our composure."
The Panthers return to the hardwood on Jan. 20 at 3 p.m. when they take on the Dalhousie Tigers.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan