Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – A heartbreaker stings in whatever fashion it's manufactured.
For the MacEwan Griffins, their brand of agony struck when they were 21 seconds away from their first victory of the Canada West men's basketball season on Saturday night.
With MacEwan looking to add to an 84-83 lead late in overtime, Keiran Zziwa stole Jake Notice's cross-court pass and dealt to Rashawn Browne, who got the hoop and harm on a three-point fast break play, leading to an 88-84 win for the Manitoba Bisons.
The victory gave Manitoba a weekend sweep, pushing their record to 9-1, while dropping MacEwan's to 0-10.
Griffins head coach Mike Connolly addressed a heartbroken locker-room after the game as his team digested the fact they came within a whisper of a big upset, which would have snapped a 13-game losing streak for the program stretching back to last January.
"I went in there and said to them, 'listen, I've been there. I know what I'm going to say is not going to make it better. I'm proud, we battled, we learned from our mistakes, we've got no one to blame. We'll come back and we'll prepare. We've got to get at it Monday.' "
Manitoba head coach Kirby Schepp had a much happier locker-room to deal with, but one that was also relieved as they escaped in a game that they were pushed to the absolute limit.
"Obviously, MacEwan's kind of gritting out a rebuilding year here, but all credit to them," said Schepp. "That was a very, very tough – probably our toughest – game this year just in terms of the compete level that they had.
"That we can come into a game like that and kind of eke one out, it gives us a bit of confidence, for sure."
MacEwan played with Manitoba all night as the teams traded leads and neither broke away from one another. It appeared the Bisons would pull it out late in the fourth quarter after a couple of defensive stops gave them a 76-72 advantage with 1:25 left. But Deonte Doslov-Doctor hit twice from the charity stripe and Notice canned a long-range jumper to send the game to overtime.
Zziwa had one of the prettiest plays of the night early in OT with a behind-the-back dish to James Wagner for an easy layup, while the Griffins countered with a scintillating three from the corner by rookie Gregoire Piche-Wint to tie the game 81-81 with 1:20 remaining.
When Browne and Wagner connected on a passing play down low, the Bisons regained the lead, but the Griffins wouldn't go away. Doslov-Doctor jarred a three for an 84-83 lead and Manitoba missed a fast break pass, setting MacEwan up handsomely in the final few seconds.
But perhaps it was just that the basketball gods had other ideas.
"We're not used to being in that situation, so we made some mistakes under pressure down the stretch where we've just got to be calm," said Connolly. "We'll look at that, we'll teach them and use those learning experiences."
Doslov-Doctor led the Griffins with 17 points, while Abdullah Shittu had 15 points, three blocks and three steals in a huge effort before fouling out with 4:19 left. Both Alex Jap and Luke Harold bucketed 12 for the Griffins, while Piche-Wint added 10. Starter Dustin Gatzki also fouled out (with 1:25 left) and was unavailable for overtime for MacEwan.
Wagner led Manitoba with a double double (15 points and 11 rebounds), while Browne had a game-high 24 points and Zziwa dropped 21. But it's not a game Schepp plans to frame.
"It was a very ugly game and the execution I thought was poor on both sides," he said. "It became one of those games where two really competitive teams were banging heads constantly. We got them in a little bit of foul trouble and that probably helped us a bit at the end. They had a couple guys foul out. Just a few toughness plays (made the difference for us), I'd say."
The Griffins next hit the road bound for weekend matches at Winnipeg on Jan. 10-11, while Manitoba is set to visit Mount Royal University on the same dates.