By Thomas Becker
Dakelle Brooks carried the team on his back in the final quarter, where he scored 11 of his game-high 23 points, none bigger than a dagger three with 24 seconds remaining that gave the UPEI Panthers the definitive lead.
After the Panthers (1-0) gained control of the rebound, Brooks passed it off to Jack MacAulay, who drew in two defenders on the drive and found the trailing Brooks for the game-winner.
"In my mind, I was going to let it fly," he said. "I practice those shots day in and day out, so I just trusted myself to hit it."
It may have only been the first game of the season, but it was an emotional win for everyone in that gym, knowing the struggles this team has been through.
"One of my main goals is to make the playoffs and change this culture around and show everybody that we can play."
The Panthers set the tone defensively from the opening tip and showed fans this is the way they intend on winning games. Outside of Sebastian Gray, the Huskies (0-1) struggled with their offence. He scored eight of the team's first 13 points and helped them take a slim 21-18 lead after one.
UPEI was able to stay close with their opponent with the help of the three ball. Through the opening 10 minutes, the Panthers went 4-of-8 from deep, with Elijah Miller drilling a pair. The rookie point guard finished with 11 points, three assists and three steals in his debut.
The Huskies found their stroke in the second and started to pull away midway through the quarter. James Kordeiro got it started early with back-to-back baskets before Johneil Johnson came off the bench and scored six points in a hurry to extend the lead 39-27 with four minutes remaining in the half. They'd carry that momentum into the break where they led 45-36.
Brooks opened the third with a triple, followed by an off balanced basket, as the Panthers whittled down the lead. Defensively, head coach Darrell Glenn threw the zone defence at the Huskies, who struggled to score with the new look.
"I think we caught them off guard," he said. "It changed the momentum of the game and that's what we were hoping would happen."
Moments later, it was MacAulay's turn to carry the scoring load. The fourth-year sharpshooter picked the pocket of his defender, which led to a Jamesley Jerome dunk. He followed that up with a free throw and a made layup to pull his team within three, 49-46. But the visitors pushed back each time the Panthers inched closer and went into the fourth ahead 57-53.
With a win in striking distance, Brooks played the percentages and drove to the basket as often as he could instead of settling for jumpers. Of his 11 fourth-quarter points, six of them came off layups and two via the charity strike.
It took awhile, but the home side earned their first lead of the game at the 6:11 mark of the fourth on a Brooks lay-in. The lead changed four more times before Brooks drilled the go-ahead triple, as the crowd erupted.
"It's part of his evolution. He's been showing little increments throughout the preseason," Glenn said of his veteran guard. "With Dakelle, it's all about confidence. What he's doing now is what I've always seen in him."
The Panthers look for a weekend sweep of the Huskies when the two battle it out again on Nov. 2 at 8 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan