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X-Men make comeback in second weekend game against UNB

St. F.X. guard Justin Andrew in the middle of a layup on UNB’s net.
St. F.X. guard Justin Andrew in the middle of a layup on UNB’s net. - Sam Macdonald

Last weekend entailed some closely contested aggressive basketball competition between St. F.X. and the UNB Reds, on Nov. 2 and 3, in particular the second game the X-Men played against UNB, which was a comeback – and a nail-biter.
Head coach Steve Konchalski said the difference between Friday and Saturday’s games hinged on rebounds; rebounds that made the game for UNB on Friday, and did the same for St. F.X. on Saturday.
Although UNB had a 19-7 lead in the Nov. 3 game, St. F.X. kept them on their toes by playing an offensive game, with the momentum created by rebounding, leading to a 99-92 victory.

“It can’t get any closer than when it goes into overtime. We just focused on our side game, trying to get the attack down around the basket, and around, through our fouls.”

In Friday’s game St. F.X. was out-rebounded by 15, Konchalski noted. Fourteen of UNB’s rebounds were offensive, which gave them the advantage around the net, with plenty of opportunities to shoot. Those opportunities contributed to UNB’s 101-95 win over St. F.X. on Friday.

On Saturday, Konchalski, rebounds were the focus of the X-men; and that paid off. St. F.X. took full advantage of 16 offensive rebounds.

“We turned it around, and we actually out-rebounded them 41-36; we did the damage that time,” Konchalski said. “Most of those opportunities are in and around the basket. Everyone wants to rebound – it’s effort, it’s focus and being willing to play the physical part of the game. To get rebounds, rebounding in traffic, you have to use your body and be aggressive.”

Going into Saturday’s game, Konchalski said they knew it was especially important St. F.X. play an aggressive game, since “UNB is a scrappy team. They always play that way – it’s their trademark, over the years; to come at you very aggressively.

“If you don’t match that, you’re going to come up short. You have to play the physical game against them, because they’re going to play that game against you. You have to stand your ground and match their physicality and aggressiveness,” Konchalski said.

St. F.X.’s aggression manifested in the solid performance of a number of players, including two shots from outside the three-point line by guard Justin Andrew, and a slam dunk by forward Azaro Roker.

The tension of Saturday’s game was evident throughout the fourth quarter, with the lead switching sides numerous times, and the home crowd growing louder with every passing second. That tension came to a head in the final 10 seconds of the game, when Guard Tristen Ross secured a tie by scoring a couple of three-pointers.

“UNB had the last shot [before overtime], but fortunately, it bounced [out], and we went into five extra minutes,” Konchalski said.

In overtime, the X-Men scored what Konchalski called “a bit of a cushion” with the first two hoops, one of which was a well-timed layup by Jaydan Smith. From then on, Konchalski said St. F.X. held onto its lead in overtime. St. F.X. ultimately took the game, with Andrew securing a final lead with four straight foul shots.

Part of the process

Konchalski said close games are nothing new to him, since, “if you coach as long as I have, you get used to playing close games.”
Konchalski noted teaching a team to win those close games is a big step, “because in order to win a close game, you have to play in a number of them to get to a point where your team knows how to play in those tight situations.”
Of the close game on Saturday and the defeat that preceded it the day before, Konchalski noted that comes with the territory of having a young team this year, and that “it’s all part of the process.”
“This was the first AUS game for seven of our players. So, to come close the first night and not quite get the job done was just disappointing, but they bounced back and showed a lot of character on our team. It showed those young guys are each progressing.”

Friday and Saturday’s games were not abnormal this season, Konchalski noted, since this year the league has been very tight.
“We got valuable experience from that game, because our young players will learn from that, and next time, in a tight situation, they can call back on that experience they had.”

St. F.X.’s next two games are against Dal, the highest-ranked and tallest team in the league. The first of those two games takes place today in Halifax, and the second will be a home game, Nov. 17.

“We beat them in the championship game of our tournament last month, so they’re not going to take us lightly. They’re going to be ready for us, and it’s going to be a tight match in Halifax,” Konchalski said.

“We have to combat that size and hopefully we can neutralize that with our team speed and athleticism.”

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