BIBLE HILL – A slow start in their opener cost the Red Deer Kings their chance at gold.
The No. 8 Kings came out slow and fell into a 20-point deficit in the first quarter on their way to an 88-65 setback to the to the top-ranked Northern British Columbia Timberwolves Thursday at the CCAA men’s basketball championship at Nova Scotia Agricultural College in Bible Hill, N.S.
Now playing for bronze, the Kings look to keep their medal hopes alive today at 1 p.m. when they take on the defending national champion Vanier Cheetahs.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Kings point guard Lloyd Strickland, who was named the Kings’ player of the game with a game-high 21 points. “We’ve always been an underdog and once we proved everyone wrong to get here we kind of felt like we had a good shot and now we don’t.”
Strickland, a 21-year-old business student from Sterling, said he and his teammates don’t want to come home empty-handed, so it will be important to learn lessons from Thursday’s setback and come out better today against the Cheetahs, who fell 101-96 to the No. 4 Mohawk Mountaineers.
“It’s huge,” he said. “We still have a chance at bronze and it would be huge to get a medal so we need to really refocus real quick and make sure we come out (today).”
Joel Carroll poured in 12 points for the Kings while Rob Pierce added 10 and collected 11 rebounds. Jose Araujo powered the Timberwolves with 20 points.
The Timberwolves showed why they came into the tournament with the top seed early Thursday by controlling possession, hitting shots and swallowing up the bulk of the rebounds at both ends of the court.
“We came out flat and we were never really able to close the gap against a very good team,” Kings head coach Clayton Pottinger said. “We closed it to 11 points and one point, but we just didn’t have the juice to finish it out.”
Pottinger said their performance Thursday was not what the Kings have come to expect of themselves. After wearing the the underdog label all season, the Kings finished second at 11-7 in the South Conference of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference before falling to the Mount Royal Cougars 101-77 in the conference final, booking their spot at nationals.
“All year we’ve been the underdogs in games like this and we’ve managed to win them,” Pottinger said. “So our guys have gotten to a level of expectation for themselves that we didn’t quite meet today, not just in terms of losing but in terms of we play a lot better than that … typically.”
But Strickland said it was the wealth of experience on the Timberwolves roster – five players in their fourth or fifth year and a national championship in 2010 – and a lack thereof for the Kings – one fifth-year player, no fourth years – that did the Red Deer squad in.
“They have a lot of experience,” he said. “They have guys that have won national championships and have been here before. I don’t think anyone on our team has ever been here and we’re very young.”
In other action Thursday, the No. 3 Indiens d-’Ahuntsic defeated the No. 6 St. Thomas Tommies 80-70 to move on to today’s 11 p.m. semifinal against the No. 2 Mount Royal Cougars. The Cougars downed the No. 7 Mount St. Vincent Mystics 81-70. The Tommies and Mystics do battle at 6 p.m.
The Timberwolves and Mountaineers hook up in the other semifinal at 9 p.m.