By Thomas Becker
The Acadia Axemen kept their playoff hopes alive after handing the UPEI Panthers their fifth straight loss, 90-78.
The Axemen's veteran savvy lineup paid dividends throughout the contest. Each time the Panthers inched closer, Acadia always responded with big baskets to come away with the win.
"It's playoff basketball for both teams," said Axemen head coach Kevin Duffie. "To give ourselves a chance, we have to win out."
Aside from the first quarter, the Panthers' (4-13) defence struggled and uncharacteristically fell for their opponent's pump fakes, which led to easy baskets. The Axemen (6-12) are known for their perimeter shooting, but in Friday's showdown, they scored 44 points in the paint, compared to UPEI's 24.
Rowan Power was the high-point man for the visitors with 16 points, while seniors Ben Miller (14 points, 10 rebounds), Trevon Grant (12 points) and Junior Moaku-Matia (10 points) all reached double figures.
Although, Panthers' guard Jack MacAulay may have been the best player on the floor that night. With his signature soft-touch jumper, the third-year guard scored five quick points for an early 7-2 advantage.
After the slow start, the Axemen started connecting on their shots and squared the game 16 all behind a 14-9 run. In the final seconds of the quarter, Amin Suleman fouled Marcus Upshaw as he threw up a three-point heave that resulted in three free throws and 19-16 advantage. Upshaw and the bench provided the early lift with 10 of the 19 points. They'd outscore UPEI's bench 30-16.
The Panthers have had their problems in the second quarter and it showed again early in the frame, as Acadia extended their lead 30-20. However, each time the Axemen went a run, MacAulay would drill a big jumper to get his team going again. After draining one of his five triples, UPEI closed the half on an 11-8 run to get within four, 38-34.
MacAulay led all scorers at the break with 15 of his season-high 23 points.
MacAulay continued to make plays and his jumper at the 7:04 mark of the third trimmed the deficit to one. But the visitors countered again with a 7-0 run, as they pushed ahead 49-41.
Miller and Grant found their rhythm and made some big shots to stop any thought of a Panther comeback. They combined for 10 of the 24 third quarter points, as they carried a 62-55 lead into the fourth.
"We have four fifth-year guys, they've seen it all," Duffie said of his team's poise. "It's experience and they don't get fazed by those things."
Acadia's shooting percentage increased in each quarter and the fourth was no different. His four seniors combined for 17 of the 28 points in the frame and delivered the final blow, as they earned the first win of the weekend series.
Looking ahead to Saturday's contest, Duffie isn't taking this team lightly.
"Against this Panthers team you have to play 40 minutes because they have guys who can get hot quickly."
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m.
Photo Credit: Janessa Hogan