Mountaineers overcome sickness, short bench to win tournament for third year running
It was a Cinderella story at the 39th annual Huskies men’s basketball tournament, as a seven-man Mohawk Mountaineers squad defeated the hosts 91-82 in Saturday’s championship final.
The Huskies, who last won the tournament in 2009, earned their championship berth thanks to a furious second half comeback earlier that afternoon against Canador. The effort expended may have been too great for George Brown to overcome, as the home team looked listless to begin their match against Mohawk.
The Mountaineers gave a deadly display of both volume and efficiency from the three-point line, shooting 7-for-13 in the first quarter and 19-for-42 overall. Deflated by Mohawk’s sharpshooting and playing without key offensive cogs in Ajahmo Clarke and Kevon Mascoe, George Brown shot just 4-of-22 from the three-point line.
“The problem that we always have is not starting off strong,” said Huskies guard Dejazmatch James, who was named a tournament all-star after scoring 76 points over three games played. “We’re missing a couple key guys but we’re a team of no excuses, so we need to fix that even if we’re missing players.”
While the home side outscored Mohawk 50-41 in the second half, it was a case of too little, too late. The Mountaineers held on for the victory, which marked the third year running Mohawk has won the tournament, as well as the fourth time in five years.
“We only had seven guys dressed for the weekend and five of those seven are actually sick, so I was extremely proud of the effort,” Mountaineers head coach Brian Jonker beamed after the final buzzer. “Really didn’t expect to be able to win three games in a day and a half, but we found a way to gut it out”.
After losing five players over the holidays, Jonker described his team as extremely small but one which can “shoot the lights out.” Mohawk’s regular season kicks off again Thursday against Niagara, which defeated the Mountaineers 84-73 in their Oct. 29 season opener.
According to Mohawk second-year guard Kareem Collins, the biggest difference between then and now is between the ears.
“Coming back in October, we were a little bit hesitant with what we wanted to do or didn’t want to do, but I feel like now we’re more confident, it’ll be a better game,” Collins said after a 16 point, 11 rebound performance in the tournament final.
Not one to put stock into wins and losses at an exhibition tournament, Huskies head coach Jonathan Smith said that what matters is learning and applying their lesson in intensity (or lack thereof). With a belief that it’s “time to get the battle on,” Smith is champing at the bit for the regular season, a sentiment shared by his players.
“I think we’re ready,” Huskies guard Brandon McGlone said of the regular season’s recommencement on Friday. “This tournament was good for us to have before the regular season, to get back into it.”