FORT McMURRAY — A year ago the RDC Kings were just satisfied to be in the Alberta Colleges Men’s Basketball League final.
This year it was a different matter altogether. The Kings went into the ACAC playoffs looking to strike gold and they accomplished that goal with an 88-85 victory over the homestanding Keyano College Huskies Sunday afternoon.
“Last year we were a little green and didn’t take the right approach going into the final,” said Kings head coach Clayton Pottinger, who is in his second season with the Kings. “We were just happy to get there and qualify for the nationals. This year our desire was to win it all.”
But it was anything but easy. In fact the Kings trailed by as much as 12 before narrowing the gap to 46-37 at the half.
“We just chipped away, chipped away and finally took the lead,” said Pottinger, whose squad outscored the Huskies 29-18 in the third quarter to lead 66-64.
The Kings led by as many as six in the final quarter before the Huskies made one last run.
“The last two and a half minutes the lead changed a half-dozen times,” explained Pottinger. “At the end they needed to foul us and we nailed the free throws.”
The Kings stepped up their defence in the second half, which was a major turning point.
“Plus we were hitting our shots . . . this was a real character builder,” added Pottinger, who felt the Kings had a little deeper bench.
“We had a little more gas left,” he said. “The fact our bench was a bit deeper allowed us to save some of the guys in the previous two games. Plus our top players played like it.”
Rob Pierce led the Kings with 24 points and nine rebounds while Demaine Nelson, who played with the Huskies last season, added 20 points and nine boards and Lloyd Strickland had 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Mari Peoples-Wong had 10 points and seven rebounds. Yona Berhe had 21 points for Keyano with Lance Wesolowski adding 19 and Louis Barham 17.
The Kings reached the final with a 105-80 victory over the Lethbridge College Kodiaks while Keyano shocked the Briercrest Bible College Clippers 108-85. The Clippers, who edged Lethbridge 97-95 to take third place, came into the tournament ranked No. 1 in Canada. The Huskies were ranked fifth in the ACAC.
“Coming in you wouldn’t have expected them (Huskies) to be where they finished, but watching them this weekend I wasn’t surprised we met them in the final,” said Pottinger, who took a deep breath and relaxed a bit following the closing ceremonies.
“It was a long season. We went from being ranked No. 1 in the country to dropping to eighth. But we were also blessed not to have run into many major injuries outside of Joel (Carroll). As well we played our best basketball when we needed to.”
Pottinger had to laugh when it was mentioned that Keyano had been good to the RDC men this year. The previous weekend the Kings volleyball team won the ACAC title at the northern campus.
“It was great and I already have a text from Aaron (volleyball Kings head coach Aaron Schulha),” he said. “In fact everyone at the college is ecstatic.”
The Kings had their way for the most part against Lethbridge, leading 28-17 after the first quarter and 57-37 at the half. The Kodiaks did narrow the gap to nine at one point in the third quarter, but the Kings still led 77-65 after 30 minutes.
Ashaunti Hogan and Peoples-Wong led the Kings with 20 points each while Strickland had 15, Jacob Cusumano 14, Pierce 13 and Brian Prenoslo and Nelson 10 each. Dario Pasquotti had 20 and Jared Baker 19 for the Kodiaks.
l Strickland and Peoples-Wong were named to the tournament all-star team . . . Carroll, who had a hyper-extended knee, could be ready for the naitonals set for March 14-16 in Montreal . . . On the women’s side at Camrose, the Olds Broncos shocked everyone winning gold with an 83-65 win over the top ranked University of Alberta Augustana Vikings.