By: Monty Mosher
Two AUS most valuable players, both in their final year, went at it Sunday with only one trip to the men's basketball nationals available.
Behind 28 points from three-time MVP Javon Masters, the U Sports all-time scoring leader, the UNB Varsity Reds claimed the AUS men's title with an 84-81 win over the St. Francis Xavier X-Men before 3,500 fans at Scotiabank Centre.
It is the first conference championship for UNB, coached by former X-Men player Brent Baker, since 1967.
St. F.X.'s Kevin Bercy, last year's MVP, scored 33 points and added 12 rebounds in his final conference game.
The X-Men forced a change of possession with 18 seconds left down by two points, but Bercy missed at the rim. Masters made two foul shots at the other end.
Davonte Provo raced down for a quick three, but the X-Men fouled on the inbounds and Jesse Kendall made both of his free throws to close it out.
Tyrell Leotaud, with 13, and Ibrahima Doumbouya, with 10, were the only other UNB players in double figures.
Provo had 18, Julius Antoine 11 and Jaydan Smith 10 for the X-Men.
"It is so much hard work and time and effort that we, as a team, have put in," Masters said in victory. "We were down early to a phenomenal St. F.X. team and Coach Baker told us to never quit. The game is 40 minutes. It looked like the fatigue of three games in three days caught up to them. We just attacked. It was a gritty win."
UNB was fully aware of past failures at Scotiabank Centre and that the team hadn't won since Canada's centennial year.
"I just think it was our mentality," said Masters. "We roll as a wolf pack. We run one through 12. We're just trying to outwork teams – get them into the fourth quarter and have our fitness and depth take care of it. That's what happened tonight."
The Varsity Reds will join the host Acadia Axemen in the U SPORTS Final 8 tournament beginning Thursday at Scotiabank Centre.
The X-Men, helped by 10 turnovers, led 46-39 at the half after leading by as much as 12.
St. F.X. had a 16-3 run in the first quarter for a 25-14 lead.
Masters got going midway through the quarter, firing a long three to close the gap to 35-27.
Bercy had something to say in response, completing a three-point play, and scoring in transition, to restore the double-digit margin. He finished with 19 points in the half on eight-of-11 from the floor.
UNB clawed back in the third quarter with Kendall's trey making it 53-48. Pitcher did the same to close the gap to three. Doumbouya's three-point play with 15 seconds left in the quarter made it 62-61.
Will Legere's three gave UNB the lead on their first shot of the fourth quarter. Masters and Kendall added triples for a two-point lead with six minutes to play.
It marked the 40th AUS championship appearance for Konchalski in his 43rd year with the team. The X-Men remain without a banner since 2006.
Leotaud was player of the game and Doumbouya the top defensive player. All-star selections went to Bercy, Doumbouya, Provo, Leotaud and Masters, who was also chosen tournament MVP.
St. F.X., 9-11 in the regular season, entered the tournament as the fifth seed, ousting Acadia on Friday before ending Dalhousie's chase for a fourth straight title. UNB, the second seed after a 16-4 campaign, toppled Memorial to get to the final.