ETOBICOKE – Cameron Gay had himself a day.
The fifth-year guard from Nine Mile Falls, Washington had a game-hgh 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, and all five starters for the VIU Mariners recorded at least 12 points to lead the Mariners to the 92-80 win over the MSVU Mystics in the CCAA Quarterfinals.
Akoi Yuot, who was named the CCAA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year on Thursday afternoon, finished the day with 15 points and eight rebounds.
The Mystics were led by Joel McCrossin, who was named Player of the Game for MSVU after recording 16 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 50% from the field. Guard Will Spaulding led all Mystics scorers with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Out of the gates, the Mystics raced to a quick 8-0 lead thanks in part to the strong defensive play that Head Coach Danny De Palma referenced as a key to the program’s run through the ACAA Championships. Defense led to offense, and the Mystics rode the early momentum, prompting a VIU timeout.
Whatever was said in the timeout resonated with the Mariners, as they started to flex their own muscle on both ends of the floor. VIU rode the momentum of a 16-2 run over their own out of the break to take back control of the first frame.
That was the trend for the entire first half. It was a series of runs as neither team was able to gain much separation from one another. After 20 minutes, the underdog Mystics were neck and neck with the Mariners, and they entered the break at 44-all.
Guard Mo Abukar gave the Mystics a spark off the bench in the first half, chipping in 10 points to keep MSVU right with the Mariners.
To start the second half, VIU took control in the first two minutes. A quick 10-0 run blitzed the Mystics, leading to an early timeout. Yuot picked up steals on consecutive possessions, and the Mariners converted them into points on the other end of the floor.
“I think it was just stay the course,” said Gay on the message in the locker room at half. “We knew that we were going to take our swings, they were going to take their swings, but we knew that we could ramp up the pressure a little bit more on defense.”
“Right away, Akoi got right into them and really got us going. He fueled that run in the second half.”
The quick outburst to start the third quarter kick-started a big 10 minutes for the Mariners. Yuot had 10 of his 15 points in the third quarter alone, and the Mariners outscored the Mystics by a 29-14 margin to take a 15-point lead into the fourth.
MSVU shot just 6-of-22 from the field in the third frame, allowing the Mariners to put some distance between themselves and the Mystics.
Down the stretch, Gay started to take over to help lead the Mariners to the win and hold off the upset-minded Mystics. MSVU did what they could to cut into the lead, but foul trouble and timely shooting from VIU kept them at bay.
Gay scored 11 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to push VIU into the Semifinals on Saturday afternoon with a 92-80 win.
“These games are never going to be easy with eight of the best teams in Canada,” added Gay. “It felt good yesterday, felt good today at warmups, and that’s kind of what I need to do is to hit those open shots.”
In the locker room at the break, VIU Head Coach Matt Kuzminski drew on his own past experiences from when he played at Simon Fraser University to try and rally the group.
“If you’re going to play a game like this, you’ve got to be the aggressor, shoot your shots and put it on the line,” said Kuzminski. “We’re not going to play off the back foot and we’re not going to be tentative, but we have to come out and attack.”
“When you come out to the National tournament, every game is going to be tight. If you stay the process and just stay together, stay composed, I think we’re going to have a run in us to break the game open.”
With the win, the Mariners advanced to Saturday night’s semifinals, where they will face off against the winner of the Dawson Blues – St. Clair Saints matchup. The Mystics will take to the court Saturday afternoon in a Bronze Medal Quarterfinal against the loser of the same game.
- T. Bennett