Saturday (Nov. 25) will feature a pair of Atlantic University Sports (AUS) basketball rivalry games at the newly-renovated Oland Centre.
The St F.X. X-Women and X-Men will host the Cape Breton University Capers at 6 and 8 p.m., respectively.
“We expect it will be a scrambly game,” X-Men head coach Steve Konchalski said, noting the visitors have been playing a variety of line-ups in pre and early-season action.
“It is hard to figure out what to expect from them.”
He added the Capers will bring “plenty of firepower and athleticism.”
On the previous night, at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, the X-Men will play the Acadia Axemen as part of a doubleheader featuring Canada and Bahamas in a FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Americas qualifier.
Tip-off for the X-Men and Axemen is set for 6 p.m.
Down to the wire
That battle will be the first between the teams since Nov. 11, when the Axemen edged the X-Men 85-82 at Oland Centre.
Konchalski noted one of the keys in the loss was “too many turnovers.”
“We had 17 and they only had nine, which means eight more offensive possessions for them, in a three-point game,” he said, noting many of the cough-ups were “unforced.”
Led by strong bench play from guard Mark Fernandes and forward Azaro Roker, the home team staged a feverish last-minute rally.
“Azaro has been coming [along] on a pretty steady basis,” Konchalski said of the 6’6” sophomore forward, who he described as “raw,” when he joined the X-Men.
“He had not really been coached before.”
He added Roker is “turning into a key player for us.”
“Azaro is, probably, playing well enough to be a starter, but we like the energy he brings off the bench,” Konchalski said.
In the final 10 seconds, after the X-Men bottled up the Axemen and forced a turnover, Fernandes and fifth-year guard Julius Antoine got off three-pointers that missed the mark.
All-Canadian Kevin Bercy led the X-Men with a double-double – 23 points and 11 rebounds – while adding three assists.
Antoine added 19 points, four rebounds, two assists, one steal and one blocked shot.
Fernandes scored a career-high 12 points, while chipping in three rebounds and one assist.
“Mark has been patient this year – we have, probably, not given him a lot of credit or enough of an opportunity,” Konchalski said, noting the senior point guard had not played in the previous three games.
“He disrupted Acadia, with his pressure defense, and hit some big threes, which helped us be able to rally.”
Roker, who electrified the home crowd with highlight-reel dunks and sky-walking defensive play, finished with nine points, seven rebounds, one assist and one steal.
“He excites and electrifies the crowd,” Konchalski said, noting his importance as a “rim protector.”
Moving the ball
As for that X-Men defense, particularly in the half court, the veteran bench boss said “I can’t say that I am happy with our progress.”
“It is a process. We have made strides, but there is more work to do,” he added.
As improvement continues, Konchalski said that will allow the team “to extend and play more pressure defense.”
“We want to be able to use our athleticism more, like we have in previous seasons,” he added.
Offensively, Konchalski said, there needs to be more ball movement.
“We need to push the ball up the court, instead of using the dribble so much,” he added.
On the same night, the Acadia Axewomen cruised to an 87-52 win over the X-Women.
Sophomore Katie MacIntosh scored a team-high 12 points, while adding four rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Freshman Kimberly Kingsbury chipped in six points and six rebounds.
In the front half of the home-and-home, Nov. 9 in Wolfville, Acadia won 81-64.
Samantha Minicucci led the X-Women with 13 points, while Jessica Miller added 10, including two three-pointers, in the loss.
Veteran point guard Chelsea Provo notched eight points, seven rebounds, six assists and one steal.
Minicucci also added six rebounds.