(with files from CIS)
VANCOUVER (CIS) – When the UBC Thunderbirds opened the 2016 ArcelorMittal Dofasco CIS Men's Basketball Final 8 earlier this week, Saturday was supposed to be about punching their ticket to the national final.
But after a 109-101 overtime loss to the No. 1 Ryerson Rams Thursday in the quarter-finals, Saturday ended up being about making the most of a game with fifth-place on the line, instead of a chance at first.
And that's what the Thunderbirds did, earning a 93-76 win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the consolation final at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.
"We exerted so much energy in that first game emotionally and physically. I was really worried about it until I went into the change room and saw how excited the guys were. I've never seen a group of guys so excited to play a fifth-sixth game in my life, but as a coach you're pretty happy when that happens," said UBC head coach Kevin Hanson, whose team played less than 24 hours earlier against the McGill Redmen in the consolation semis.
Much like they did in their quarter-final game against the Rams and consolation semifinal against McGill, UBC played the role of frontrunner, trailing Ottawa for just 3:17.
"I said to the coaches as we walked in today it seemed like such a long time from the start of today's game...(to) when we played that game against Ryerson," Hanson pointed out. "Certainly we would've loved to have had the opportunity to play with our home crowd and make this a special event, but our alumni and donors…everybody said they were proud of this team."
"As far as I'm concerned, that was a very successful year for us. We're very happy."
Leading the way Saturday for the hosts, who welcomed the Final 8 back to Vancouver for the first time since 1972, was Conor Morgan, who netted a game-high 25 points and added eight rebounds.
Saturday proved to be somewhat of a bittersweet win for the T-Birds, who couldn't help but wonder what might have been during a tournament in which they trailed for a grand total of just 4:37 during 120 minutes of regulation time.
The game was David Wagner's last as a T-Bird, as the host's lone fifth-year player went out with a victory and plenty of pride.
"I hope I taught the young guys some stuff that they'll carry through their careers and I'm really excited to be a part of this program, even when I'm not a part of this program," Wagner said.
For Ottawa, playing on the consolation side of the bracket wasn't without its challenges following back-to-back trips to the national final and expectations entering the tournament of a third shot at toppling their rival Carleton Ravens.
"The committees and things always go back forth about whether or not they want to have these games," said Ottawa head coach James Derouin when asked about the difficulty of playing on the consolation side.
"It's difficult for these guys to play. I mean, you might get one game out of them, but to play another game, it's challenging for young people who came here with one goal. I've been there as a player and I know how hard these games are to play for both teams."
Adding to the difficulty for the Gee-Gees was Mike L'Africain's absence, as this year's CIS player of the year was sidelined with a knee injury sustained during Ottawa's quarter-final loss to Dalhousie.
"You can't repeat this environment. The gym, the lights, the stadium, the lead up – all that stuff," Derouin pointed out when asked about giving his youngsters a bigger taste of the Final 8 instead of giving several veterans more time.
"Losing the player of the year isn't easy to recover from, but I thought our guys did a great job. They competed in both games and against two Final 8 teams without the player of the year. I'm extremely proud of them and I think the future looks great."
UBC 22-23-21-27: 93
Points: Conor Morgan (25)
Rebounds: Conor Morgan (8)
Assists: Philip Jalalpoor (6)
Points: Matt Plunkett & Caleb Agada (18)
Rebounds: Calvin Epistola (4)
Assists: Caleb Agada (4)