SASKATOON – In a classic battle of size versus speed, size won – but only after a conclusion that will go down as one of the best the BRIT Classic has ever seen, as the Archbishop O’Leary (Edmonton) Spartans defeated the Garden City (Winnipeg) Fighting Gophers 63-59 in an overtime thriller.
“It feels good you know. It’s a big tournament in Western Canada and it feels good to have our name and picture on the wall forever,” said guard/forward Tristen Kamal, who had a team-high 10 points in the fourth quarter.
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The Spartans led from the opening tip, but a scrappy Gophers squad, which trailed by as many as 16 points, forced an extra period when forward Trezon Morcilla mailed a clutch three-pointer in the dying seconds of regulation.
“I said ‘Hey, we’ve led every single second of this game, all they’ve done is tied it up,’” Spartans head coach Ray Filice said he told his players before overtime began. “Let’s just take the lead again, let’s execute on offence and play some defence, and that’s exactly what they did.”
With the tide turning against them, the Spartans dug deep, and their big men came up huge when it mattered most. With less than a minute left in overtime, six-foot eight forward Adong Makuoi made a key block on eventual tournament MVP Marcel Arruda-Welch, preserving a one-point lead.
Makuoi’s teammates then went to work, pounding the ball inside on offence and drawing fouls on consecutive possessions which led to a trio of foul shots that salted away the 63-59 victory.
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“We felt that we were a bit deeper, hopefully try to get them into foul trouble. Also make them work on the defensive end, hopefully draw some fouls, get some guys on the bench. That was our gameplan,” Filice said.
As for the Fighting Gophers, who electrified fans throughout the tournament with their up-tempo game and sharpshooting prowess, they’re still chasing their first BRIT title after their second runner-up finish in as many appearances.
“(In 2013) I think we lost by three late in the game to Sir Winston Churchill and this time we took it to overtime,” said head coach Phil Penner. “Maybe next time we get back we can get over the hurdle.”
The Spartans, meanwhile, hope the win will propel them to greater heights back home, as they pursue a provincial championship.
“We can do a lot of things if we work hard and hold each other accountable in what we do. We’re just a family and we work together,” said forward Mina Ogot.
No matter how the rest of their season plays out, they’ll always have that show-stopping Saturday in Saskatoon.