They’re still perfect — but just barely.
The UNB Varsity Reds men’s basketball team improved to 6-0 on the season with back-to-back wins over the St. Francis Xavier X-Men this past weekend at the Currie Center.
On Friday, the Varsity Reds posted a dominating 98-74 win over the X-Men. On Saturday, UNB battled hard and erased a 13-point third quarter deficit to beat StFX 85-84.
The big storyline from Saturday’s game was UNB’s use of the three-point shot. The Varsity Reds had 36 three-point attempts and hit 11 of them — with most coming in the second half. By comparison, StFX only attempted 10 all game.
“The big thing is, when you live and die on the three-point ball, it can keep you in games and it can get you out of games in a hurry,” said Varsity Reds head coach Brent Baker.
UNB leads Atlantic University Sport in three-point shots made (71) and attempts (185). The team features some solid three-point shooters in Will McFee, Jordan Irvine, Dylan Baker and Javon Masters. Despite the team’s heavy use of the shot, Baker said it isn’t something the team focuses on.
“If you ask my team how much I talk about three-point shooting, it would probably be the smallest thing on our practice plan. It’s like free throws — I don’t talk about it and I don’t want them thinking about it. I just want them to be ready to shoot the ball when it comes from that spot.”
The first quarter of Saturday’s game was tightly contested. UNB led by just a few points throughout and ended the opening 10 minutes up 22-17.
The game remained close in the second quarter. A Jordan Tyrrell slam at 8:19 gave the X-Men a 24-22 lead but a three ball from Irvine shortly after put UNB back in front. Midway through the quarter, the Varsity Reds were struggling to make shots and allowed the X-Men to tie things at 29-29. In the final few minutes of the half, StFX took advantage of UNB’s struggling offence and grabbed a 46-40 lead at the buzzer.
The X-Men were up by as much as 13 in the third quarter before the Reds started to climb back. A shot clock buzzer beating three ball from Irvine got the Reds within 10 — and it was a sign of things to come. A couple big threes from McFee and Baker had UNB within one at 4:25. At 3:38, Masters drove hard to the net for a layup and tied things at 55-55. The teams went back and forth for the remainder of the quarter with StFX clinging to a 61-60 lead heading into the fourth.
A big dunk from Masters at 3:23 of the fourth ignited the Reds and the Currie Center crowd, putting UNB up 80-78. Masters would end up scoring UNB’s final seven points of the game and the team would hang for an 85-84 victory.
“Down the stretch, a lot of guys made big shots and big plays,” said Baker. “The biggest thing we had trouble with was defending them inside. That was our biggest problem for sure.”
Masters led the way for the Reds with 23 points while McFee had 21. Ryan Smith had 15 rebounds.
In Friday’s game, Masters had 25 points and McFee 23 in UNB’s 98-74 win over StFX. The Varsity Reds led by as much as 30 in the game.
The Reds were strong offensively throughout the match, scoring 22 or more points in each quarter.
The Varsity Reds end the first half of their season with a trip to Nova Scotia. They will face the Capers in Cape Breton on Friday night at 8 p.m. and the X-Men at StFX on Saturday at 6 p.m. Friday’s contest will be UNB’s first four-point game of the season.
“I think we’ll be a whole bunch more ready the next we play them,” Baker said about the X-Men. “But we’ve got a tough four-point game with Cape Breton first. That’s the hardest road trip in the AUS. I don’t care if you’re the San Antonio Spurs; you’re going to have trouble winning two. A lot of times you’re just going down there for the split if you can get it.
“It’s a tough road trip.”
UNB’s next home game is against Holland College on Jan. 2 as part of the UNB Alumni Tournament.