ETOBICOKE – Oh, when the Saints go marching in.
For the first time in the program’s history, the St. Clair Saints will play for a Men’s Basketball National Championship. The Saints used a big second half to seize control against the VIU Mariners and roll to the 109-90 win in front of a large contingent of St. Clair fans.
The loss was VIU’s first defeat of the season, as the Mariners came into Saturday’s contest unbeaten and ranked number one in the CCAA rankings.
St. Clair was led by none other than fifth-year guard David Gomez Jr. He led all scorers on the day with 30 points to go along with six assists and three rebounds. Chad Vincent-Simon recorded 21 points and 10 rebounds in the win, one day after sending the Saints into the semifinals with his acrobatic layup in the final seconds on Friday.
Jalen Harmon was named Player of the Game for the Saint after recording 24 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists.
The Mariners were led by fifth-year guard Cameron Gay. Gay finished with a team-high 23 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Richard Henderson finished the night with a double-double of 21 points and 15 rebounds.
Akoi Yuot, the CCAA Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, was limited to just 13 minutes of action because of early foul trouble. Yuot finished with eight points and seven rebounds before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
Early on, the Mariners and Saints went back and forth. VIU took a six-point lead midway through the first quarter when a dunk from Henderson put the Mariners ahead 20-14.The Saints answered back with a jumper from Terence Williams, and the back-and-forth action would continue to the end of the first quarter.
In the second, the Mariners once again looked to put some separation between themselves and the Saints. A layup from Tori Odom with 7:03 left in the half gave VIU a seven-point lead. The lead was short-lived, as the Saints started to find their rhythm on offense.
With Yuot on the bench in early foul trouble, the St Clair offense looked to capitalize. A pair of free throws from Miles Hall gave the Saints a two-point lead. After the Mariners quickly tied it at 41-all, Jesiah Deerr connected on a three to put the Saints ahead by three, at 44-41.
With St. Clair having the momentum down the stretch, the Mariners needed something to go their way before the break. Enter Gay, who is known as being a big-time player in big games. He hit a three from the elbow just before the buzzer to give VIU some momentum, although the Saints held a 48-46 advantage.
Late in the third quarter, the Saints started to take over on offense and their fans got into the game, as well. After Henderson hit a three for the Mariners to tie the game at 58-all, Vincent-Simon hit a jumper on the next St. Clair possession to put the Saints ahead by two.
That jumper kicked off a 15-4 run for the Saints to close the third quarter, and St. Clair took a 73-62 lead into the fourth.
After Vincent-Simon’s jumper, the Saints wouldn’t trail the rest of the way.
Yuot picked up his fifth foul in the opening minutes, and things started to unravel for the Mariners on both ends of the floor. VIU was assessed a total of three technical fouls in the quarter, and they couldn’t find any sustained rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.
St Clair took full advantage, and stretched their lead to as many as 28 points in the late stages of the game.
On the heels of a strong second half, one in which the Saints outscored the Mariners by a 61-44 margin, St. Clair secured their spot in the National Championship game with a convincing 109-90 win over VIU.
With the win, the Saints guaranteed their first-ever national medal in Men’s Basketball in their first trip to the CCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship since 1980.
VIU will now move to the Bronze Medal side of the bracket. The Mariners will take on a familiar foe on Sunday morning in the Capilano Blues. The winner will play for the Bronze Medal on Sunday evening.
St. Clair now awaits the winner of the second semi-final between the host Humber Hawks and SAIT Trojans.
- T. Bennett