It was a tough way to end a great season.
After finishing first in the Atlantic University Sport regular season standings with a 16-4 record, the UNB Varsity Reds men’s basketball team had their season abruptly end with an 85-74 semifinal loss to the Dalhousie Tigers on Feb. 28 in Halifax.
“Our defence kind of left us in the second half. We had a really poor matchup with Sven Stammberger and we didn’t really follow through on the defensive game plan on that end,” said UNB head coach Brent Baker. “When you give 56 or 57 points or whatever in a half, that’s pretty good indication that you’re not getting it done.”
The Varsity Reds led 40-29 at halftime and had a 12-point lead in the third quarter. The Tigers, who were seeded fifth entering the tournament, slowly crawled back into the game though, making it a one-point match heading into the fourth. In that final quarter, Dalhousie posted 28 points and pulled ahead in the final couple minutes.
“We kind of got a little stagnant on offense,” added Baker. “We didn’t attack and guys weren’t moving. Once the ball got into [Will] McFee, Javon [Masters] or [Matt] Daley’s hands, everyone kind of stood around and expected them to do it. We didn’t move the ball well.”
Although the 2014-15 season didn’t end with a championship, this was still quite an impressive season for the Varsity Reds. Masters led the entire country in scoring again this year with an average of 25.1 points per game, winning AUS most valuable player honours. Masters was also named a first team AUS all-star while McFee made the second team and Jesse Kendall cracked the all-rookie squad. On top of all that, Baker was named the AUS coach of the year.
The Varsity Reds sat in first place for most of the season and clinched top spot in the conference for the first time in nearly 50 years. There’s no doubt that this year’s team was one of the best the Varsity Reds have assembled in recent memory.
“I’m not disappointed in these guys. I’m more disappointed for them,” said Baker.
“For everything we did this year, losing that game doesn’t diminish that this is the only [UNB] team that’s gotten the bye [by finishing first overall in the regular season] since 1967.
“We did a lot of really, really good things and I think when you put that all over the course of 20 games, we didn’t mess up our way to 16-4. We did it because we played well.”
Looking ahead to next season, UNB will be without the services of Will McFee, Jordan Irvine and Ryan Smith due to graduation. Baker was quick to point out that the subtraction of those three may not be the only roster adjustments.
“My job is to upgrade the roster. We’re going to try and make sure that we always keep getting better. There’s two types of loyalty here: my loyalty is to make sure the program goes forward, gets better and we can keep adding better players. Their obligation or loyalty is that I don’t have to recruit for that position. You can get better through development and you can get better through recruiting. We try and do a little bit of both.”
The V-Reds have already announced three recruits, adding 6’9 Cam Redl, 6’7 Ben Redl and 6’8 Stephon Smith to next season’s roster.
“We’ll have, probably, more athletic size than we’ve had in a few years. We’ll be bigger.”