If the Capilano University Blues and Langara College Falcons had played a 10-game series instead of a single-knockout match last night, there is no doubt in my mind that it would have been split right down the middle at five apiece.
But this is the PacWest playoffs – not a Fischer-Spassky chess championship – so the Blues took full advantage of the winner-take-all format and narrowly beat the Falcons 85-77 Thursday night at Capilano University’s Sportsplex.
Blues second-year point guard James Lum was the catalyst in the victory, weathering first-half foul trouble and finishing with a game-high 25 points to go along with eight assists.
Lum, the league’s reigning rookie of the year, defined the word clutch by rallying his squad late in the fourth quarter and drilling multiple threes when Capilano needed them most.
Lum credits his head coach Jordan Yu and assistant coach Alex Murphy – both of whom boast UBC point guard duties on their resume – for driving him to excel as a floor-general.
“[Jordan’s] the reason I came to Capilano. Both him and Alex have played at the highest levels, and they’ve been huge for me,” said Lum. “In the fourth quarter Alex told me to attack, to attack the hoop. And I tried to do that.”
With the game tied at 59 at the end of the third quarter, and then giving up a 10-3 run to begin the fourth, Lum sparked a 13-6 burst for the Blues to tie it once again.
Langara guard Gurjote Jhaj got a steal with the game knotted at 75 and 1:30 on the clock, but was fouled on his way to the hoop and then failed to convert either free throw.
Lum then connected on his fourth triple of the night, and followed that up the next possession by dishing off to forward Mike Zayonc for an easy deuce in close to put the Blues up five.
Despite a few last-ditch efforts by the Falcons, Capilano remained poised and perfect from the charity stripe when it mattered and sealed the victory, as well as a spot in Friday’s semifinals.
The atmosphere was electric due to the large contingents of both Capilano and Langara fans, but it was the belligerent drum-beaters in blue that had the last clap.
“We haven’t had a crowd like that all year, so to have a crowd like that during the provincial championships – that’s huge,” said Yu.
“We usually never have a game this loud,” echoed Lum. “We’re so lucky to be hosting the provincials at Cap, and the energy from the crowd made it an awesome atmosphere.”
Langara’s Jhaj, who was recently awarded league MVP honours, shot just 5-for-19 from the field and only hit two of six from the free throw line.
“I don’t know if the atmosphere bothered him,” said Langara head coach Jake McCallum. “They were throwing a double at him and so they definitely put him off his game.”
Silky-smooth point guard Brody Greig was the leading scorer for the Falcons, posting a double-double of 17 points and 11 assists, while big men Jitinder Lohcham and Devin McMurtry chipped in 14 and 12 respectively.
But take away Lum’s long-bombs and Langara’s imposing front line, and you’ll find the true game changer of Thursday’s quarterfinal: third-year 6-foot-5 utility man Mike Steele.
“After losing our two bigs over Christmas, I told Steele that he needed to step up,” said Yu. “I told him before playoffs that ‘You need to be our x-factor guy’. He hadn’t been guarded much before in his career, and I didn’t think anyone was going to step up and guard him today or in any other game, so we knew that people were going to sag off him tonight.
“I told him he had the green light tonight.”
And Steele didn’t see red, or even yellow, dropping 20 points and matching Lum with four threes of his own.
For Langara, their season ends with a thriller finish that could have gone either way.
“Right now I’d say it’s disappointing,” said McCallum. “There were a lot of ups and downs but I’m proud of the guys for the way they played throughout the year.
“They were better than us tonight. I don’t think they’re better than us, but they were better than us tonight.”
Capilano now moves on to face top-ranked Vancouver Island University.
“We actually match up better with VIU than we do with Langara, so I think we’re just going to try to take this momentum and ride with it,” said Yu.
The other semifinal between Camosun College and the University of Northern British Columbia tips off at 6pm, while Cap and VIU square off right after at 8pm.