There was a slim chance of a positive outcome for the Kwantlen men’s basketball team this past weekend. In my last article, I detailed the miniscule odds that would send them to the postseason. Unfortunately for the Eagles, those odds were stacked too heavily against them.
On Friday, Feb. 15 against Camosun College, the Eagles played some of their best – and strangest – basketball all year. Their starting point guard, Chris Arcangel, was out for the third straight game with an ankle injury, and their back-up lead guard, Nii Engmann, was taking care of his newborn baby daughter. Kwantlen was left without any of their usual ball handlers, but Wilson managed to find an unlikely substitute that ended up causing a ton of matchup problems.
He called upon third-year forward Tristan Gruenthaler to run the offense. Gruenthaler had rarely ventured outside the paint during the entire season, and has a offensive repertoire that revolves around up-and-unders, turnaround hooks, and spot-up 10-foot jumpers. He’s 6-foot-6, has one of the biggest bodies on Kwantlen’s roster, but on Friday he was given a new role – to run the Eagles’ offense.
Besides completely surprising the Chargers, the shuffle created a ripple effect of matchup problems. If a post player came out to defend Gruenthaler, that gave Ali Bosir more room to operate in the post. If they brought out a guard, that forced other bigger, slower defenders to have to close out Kwantlen’s three-point shooters.
After being down 14 points heading into halftime, the Eagles found their groove in the third quarter, outscoring Camosun 22-6 and building enough momentum to tie the game at 69 at the end of regulation.
A massive dunk by Bosir – who finished the regular season leading the league in both points and rebounds – late in the fourth may have been the turning point.
“Dunks and threes give you so much momentum,” said Wilson. “Even though a dunk is only worth two points – we all know that somehow it’s one of the best plays in basketball. We definitely rode the momentum after that. I mean he hammered it.”
Kwantlen didn’t skip a step in the overtime period and held on for an 83-76 victory. The first half of their must-win weekend was complete.
Then the Eagles travelled north to Nanaimo, and the realization of how impossible it was going to be to make the playoffs set in sometime during the first quarter against Vancouver Island University (VIU).
The Mariners took a 51-27 advantage at the half, then dropped 36 in the third and dominated from start to finish to dispatch Kwantlen’s desperate playoff hopes.
The final 103-68 score showed that even when backed into a corner, the fifth-best team in B.C. couldn’t compete with the seventh-best team in Canada.
“VIU’s a really good team, and we really need them not to play so well for us to have a chance in the game,” said Wilson. “They shot the ball well, they played good defence like they always do. And when VIU shoots the ball well, they’re tough to beat. They’re the best defensive team in the league in my opinion.”
So that’s it. The Eagles’ season is done, and now they’re left to cheer on their female counterparts in next weekend’s PacWest provincial championships.
But there’s no doubt that Wilson will be keeping an eye on the playoffs, watching each team that narrowly finished with better records in than his squad – teams that the Eagles beat at one time or another – compete for the ultimate prize that has eluded Kwantlen for so many years.
He knows what they need to change: more depth, better ball handlers, guys who can slash and create their own shots off the dribble. But until September rolls around, and with it a fresh start, Wilson can only predict what will happen in the playoffs that he won’t take part in.
“I would be shocked if VIU and Langara don’t meet in the championship,” said Wilson. “I think if teams try to make it a track meet with Langara, that I don’t see Langara losing.”
And out of the remaining teams placed three through six?
“If I had to pick one, I’d say Camosun.”
He makes a good point. They rebound well, and they’re going to be playing on their home court.
But the odds of anyone upsetting two of the nation’s powerhouses aren’t much better than the playoff long shot that Kwantlen faced in their last weekend of the regular season.
The PacWest provincial championships take place in Victoria at Camosun’s Pacific Institute of Sport Excellence and run from Thursday February 28 through to Saturday March 2.