Winning a championship is rewarding in itself, but winning at home is altogether another thrill.
“It was electric at the final buzzer” said Kings head coach Clayton Pottinger following the Kings 67-62 victory over the Concordia University College Thunder in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference men’s basketball gold medal game before an overflow crowd at RDC Sunday afternoon.
“With the crowd chanting ‘R-D-C, R-D-C’, I had chills. It was awesome to do this at home, in front of our fans.”
It was the second straight league title for the Kings and third time in a row they’ll compete at the national finals, which are set for March 12-15 at Quest University in Squamish, B.C.
Kings fifth-year point guard Lloyd Strickland has played a major role in the Kings success, but he stressed the past doesn’t compare to Sunday afternoon.
“You can put all five years in one big bundle . . . one last game is worth the gold. This puts my whole career in perspective. This one last game (here) is all I can ask for.”
Tournament MVP Clay Crellin, who joined the Kings this year, agreed.
“The crowd was great, for both sides,” he said. “As for the MVP it was amazing, but every player on this team deserves this, especially big Sam (Lolik). It’s great playing alongside him.”
Lolik joined the Kings at Christmas.
“That a great way to play my final game in this gym,” said Lolik, who not only played basketball, but had a family and other work commitments.
“It was all worth it.”
The Thunder were the surprise of the tournament after coming in ranked sixth. They needed a final second three-point shot to upset Grant MacEwan 72-71, then downed Lethbridge College Kodiaks 63-61 in the semifinals.
They then gave the Kings all they could handle and it wasn’t until Crellin took over the game late that the RDC squad was able to gain any breathing room. Crellin hit a driving layup, then stole a rebound off a missed free throw and was fouled. He hit both free throws to put the Kings up by seven late.
“He was great down the stretch, but we also started rebounding better and playing better defence,” said Pottinger, who went 10 deep while the Thunder’s starting five all played over 37 minutes.
“Because we were able to substitute we were fresh down the stretch, which was key for us,” said Pottinger. “They were about seven deep and most of their top guys played close to 40 minutes, so we felt it was a matter of time before they started to wear down. But full credit to them. they came to play.”
“Concordia played their butts off,” added Crellin. “We watched them against MacEwan and we knew they would be tough. This was one of the toughest games we’ve played all season.”
The Thunder led 12-8 after the first quarter with RDC taking a 32-29 lead at the half and extended it to 49-41 after three quarters.
The Thunder’s defence was a key to their success during the weekend, earning them a wild card berth to the nationals.
“We’ve run a program for years where we’ve been solid defensively,” said Thunder head coach Reagan Wood. “There were periods during the season we struggled with that, but we were able to keep that up this weekend. We have a great group of veteran guys who know what it takes to win big games and they know defence is a key.”
Wood felt the free throw line and the Kings depth and experience were the difference in the game.
“We missed a few free throws (20 of 32), plus Red Deer is such a great team. They have so much talent, so much depth. Plus they made a couple of key shots down the stretch. But it was a well-played game on both sides.”
It’s the first time Concordia has qualified for the nationals.
“It’s exciting. We want to do our conference proud.”
While the final was a battle, Strickland felt the Kings needed to be at the top of their game in all three games.
“Although some of the scores didn’t show it, the whole tournament was close,” he said.
“That final was a grind. But at the same time it was more rewarding because we earned it. It wasn’t given to us. No one laid down for anyone. We definitely took it, which is the best feeling in the world.”
Crellin led the Kings in the final with 19 points and seven rebounds while Rob Pierce added 13 points and seven boards and Strickland 12 points. Lolik had nine points and seven rebounds.
David Shantz, a fifth-year guard out of Wetaskiwin, had 25 points and 11 rebounds for the Thunder.
The Kings reached the final with a 90-72 win over the NAIT Ooks with Crellin hitting 17 points and 14 rebounds while Mari Peoples-Wong had 16 points, Strickland 13 and Pierce 12. Yonas Berhe had 25 points for NAIT.
Lethbridge downed NAIT 81-53 to take third place while Grant MacEwan stopped Keyano 80-72 for fifth place.
• Berhe, Chris Maughan of Lethbridge, Shantz, Strickland and Peoples-Wong were tournament all-stars . . . The only negative of the tournament was the fact the RDC could have used more seating . . . Grant MacEwan won the women’s tournament in Olds with a 74-65 win over Augustana. NAIT stopped Lethbridge 78-75 for third place while SAIT downed Olds 75-67 for fifth place. On Saturday Olds beat Grande Prairie 85-71.