LANGLEY — Never say die.
That’s the mantra of the Vancouver Island Mariners, and boy, is it working.
After its last-second heroics led to a PacWest playoff title and a berth at the CCAA nationals, the Nanaimo squad continued to leave its audiences in stunned amazement.
On Thursday, the Mariners opened their run here at the Langley Events Centre looking every bit the kind of team ready to bow out without a whimper.
Yet trailing by 18 points late in the first half, and falling behind by 17 just over a minute into the third, they re-discovered the very best version of themselves and miraculously rallied to stun Calgary’s SAIT Trojans 102-84. (full updated Friday schedule below)
The 36-point swing was anchored, fittingly by a hometown son.
Mariners’ 6-foot-5 third-year forward Tyus Barfoot, a Nanaimo District Secondary grad, was one of VIU’s four 20-point plus scorers. Barfoot scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half, shooting a perfect 8-for-8 from the field over the final two quarters, his final field goal a decisive slam dunk with 1:10 remaining that put his team ahead 98-79.
Barfoot also grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds, including 10 off of the offensive glass.
“We’ve been in that situation before, but our biggest skill is having a lot of togetherness as a team,” said Barfoot, whose Mariners advance to face the Quebec champion Vanier Cheetahs in 5:30 p.m. semifinal on Friday. “I think we proved that today. Playing for your hometown school, playing on the big stage, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
And while the Mariners’ second-half comeback was the product of the energy they created, at the other end, everything that seemed to fall for the Trojans in the first half, stayed out in the second. SAIT scored just 16 points in each of the final two frames and were outscored 65-32 over the second half.
“Going into halftime, I thought we were tentative,” said VIU head coach Matt Kuzminski. “We had to go out and change our demeanour. We had to drive the ball, get after it, and if we lose, let’s lose because we put it all on the line.”
Possession by possession, the tide turned.
SAIT pulled back on its jump-shooting game, which had lost its touch in the second half, and even though they battled hard under the glass, you couldn’t count how many times they watched their shots hang and roll off the rim.
When VIU big man Jerod Dorby fouled out of the game with 4:20 left, back-up Anders Cederberg came in and gave them everything they needed from a positional standpoint of being a presence in the paint.
Meanwhile, in concert with Barfoot, the troika of Harry Fayle (25 points), Landon Radliff (21 points) and Cameron Gay (21 points) all came together.
“The one thing we saw was they were switching everything and their switches were really loose,” commented Kuzminski. “So we were talking about slipping as much as we could. There were a lot of gaps where we could slip to the basket, or we could dive our big man. All of that helped (40 second-half points in the paint), but the biggest shift was still our aggressiveness, the way the guys just changed their demeanour.”’
Afterwards, how could Kuzminski, a Nanaimo-Dover Bay grad, not be thrilled for his two hometown players, both NDSS Islanders’ grads?
“Tyus was incredible,” Kuzminski said of Barfoot. “He does kind of get lost in the background (on a team with PacWest scoring leader Radliff and assists champ Gay), but he doesn’t care. He’s such a team guy, and with what he did today in the second half, we were blessed. He sets the tone for our togetherness as a team.
“Anders deserves a ton of credit because he has had up-and-down minutes and he’s had every reason to lose confidence,” Kuzminski said Cederberg. “But he stayed the course and right now, he is playing his best basketball.”
John Smith led the Trojans with 23 points, while Ian Tevis added 18, Nicolas Molina 15 and Rahsaan Chambers 14 points and 11 rebounds.
SAIT will face Toronto’s Humber Hawks in a 1 p.m. consolation round game Friday.
FINAL FOUR FRIDAY
(all games at Langley Events Centre, all times PDT)
1 p.m. — Humber vs. SAIT
3 p.m. — Langara vs. Montmorency
5:30 p.m — Vancouver Island vs. Vanier
7:30 p.m. — Sheridan vs. Holland
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