By Thomas Becker
Backed by a hot shooting night, the Saint Mary's Huskies salvaged the weekend series with a 92-87 win over the UPEI Panthers.
The Huskies (1-1) drilled 14 of 33 three-pointers which proved to be the difference in the game. Nikita Kasongo made four of them and finished with a game-high 26 points, with seven rebounds and four assists. Johneil Johnson and Qyemah Gibson recorded 15 points each in the win.
"We hit shots tonight," said Saint Mary's head coach Jonah Taussig. "Last night we were 5-for-30, so that's a big difference on the offensive end."
Johnson and Sebastian Gray paced the Huskies early with five points each, as they jumped to an early 12-2, forcing UPEI to burn a timeout. The visitors traded baskets with their opponent in the final 5:43 to go into the second up 22-11.
The Huskies were balanced in their attack throughout the half with no player scoring more than eight points. Their bench was phenomenal as they put up 17 of their 43 first-half points. They opened up a 19-point advantage before the Panthers (1-1) clawed back to within 13 by halftime. UPEI's rookies stepped up and kept them in the game, as Elijah Miller, Kamari Scott and Emmanuel Ndajue combined for 24 of the 30 points.
Kasongo looked for his shot in the third and carried his team in the opening minutes. The skilled scorer split a pair of triples with a layup and scored eight of the team's first 10 points to open up a 53-37 lead.
Jack MacAulay showed off his shooting prowess in the quarter, where he went a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the arc to help the Panthers cut it to 66-60. The sharpshooter finished with 14 points on the night.
In the dying seconds, Kasongo heaved a shot from just inside half court where the refs felt Miller fouled him. After putting away all three shots, the Huskies went into the fourth up 69-60.
"UPEI was coming and it kind of felt like last night's game, but he hit a couple big threes for us to keep it at a semi-comfortable lead," Taussig said of Kasongo's performance.
UPEI continued to show their resilience in the quarter and each time their opponent extended the lead, they'd return the favour on the other end.
"This group just does not quit," said Panthers head coach Darrell Glenn. "We continue to battle. We keep fighting. And we keep looking for answers. I'm really proud of the effort this weekend."
Miller and Ndatuje gave the Panthers a big lift in the final 10 minutes and were responsible for 20 of the 27 points scored. Miller had a team-high 25 points and eight rebounds, while the six-foot-10 centre finished with 21 points and nine rebounds.
"We're going to rely on our rookies a lot this year," Glenn said. "We have a lot of them and we've got to play them, but they've responded."
With their help, the Panthers trimmed the deficit to as few as four, but their effort wasn't enough to complete the comeback bid, as they ultimately fell 92-87.
UPEI returns to the court Nov. 8 when they take on the St. FX X-Men in Antigonish.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan