LANGLEY — In grade school years, Montreal’s Vanier Cheetahs would, at first inspection, seem to be lacking a lot in terms of their overall experience.
Yet don’t let the fact that Quebec’s RSEQ champions have five players who are of Grade 12 age within the province’s CEGEP system, and that five others qualify as pure freshmen.
Vanier showed that the opening round of the CCAA national championship tournament was not too big a moment for them to cope with Thursday at the Langley Events Centre.
Despite a pair of runs from Toronto’s Humber Hawks, the Cheetahs were able to lean on their lethal blend of dribble penetration and three-point shooting to extract a 102-94 victory and earn a berth in Friday’s Final Four. (full updated Friday schedule below)
“We actually weren’t happy because we weren’t executing as we would have liked,” said Vanier head coach Andrew Hertzog, whose team nonetheless used a game-closing 7-3 run to shake a never-say-die Humber team which had pulled to within 95-91 on a Jaylan Morgan lay-in with 1:28 left.
“Everybody was trying to do it by themselves, and sometimes young players will do that,” said Hertzog, “but we finally got it going.”
Guards Abdou Karim Mane and Nginyu Ngala were exceptional throughout, scoring 25 and 24 points respectively and combining to hit nine of the team’s 16 triples. The game featured 27 combined three-pointers, and Vanier was a lights-out 16-of-24 from distance.
“He’s basically unstoppable,” Hertzog said of the 6-foot-5 Mane. “He’s a great athlete, he can beat anyone off the dribble and when his three is working like it was today (5-of-8), I don’t know how you guard him,”
Added Hertzog of Ngala, a 5-foot-9 ball-handling whiz who shot 4-of-6 from distance: “He was the MVP in provincial championships and he’s just an ice water-through-his-veins type of kid.”
Khalifa Koulamallah added 17 for the winners while Chris Biekeu added 15.
The Cheetahs pushed their lead to 60-46 with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter when Isaac Cheverie knocked down a kick-back pass for three points.
Humber, however, came roaring back with a 14-3 run of its own to pull within three at 63-60 with 3:26 remaining in the frame.
Zach Marcelline’s trey pulled the Hawks back to within a possession, however Vanier found a way to re-gain separation heading into the fourth behind an 8-2 run and 71-62 lead after 30 minutes.
Earlier this season, the Cheetahs lost a close game to the then-No. 1-ranked prep team in the U.S, Putnam-Science Prep, and they also beat the No. 5 U.S. prep team, Northfield-Mt. Hermon.
Humber got 19 points from DeQuin Cascart, 18 from Curwin Elvis and 15 from Fowzi Mohamoud.
“We’re still disappointed with the way we played defence,” continued Hertzog, whose bunch may not have the same package of overall physical strength they will face from the other older and more experienced teams which may lay ahead in the draw. “We’re going to have to clean that up as we move along.”
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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