HALIFAX, NS – St. Francis Xavier forward Deon Ejim poured in a 24 point, 12 rebound double-double as the U SPORTS #9 ranked X-Men defeated the Saint Mary's Huskies 84-75 at the Homburg Centre on Friday night.
It was the Huskies who got off to a hot start early, as guard Jayrell Diggs (East Preston, NS) had a pair of layups, while forward Jackson Enyinna (Port Harcourt, Nigeria) provided in the paint, with a block, offensive rebounding, and a visit to the line. Guard Jonas Maerz (Rosenheim, Germany) drained a three from well-behind the line forcing the X-Men to call a time-out trailing 10-0. A single free throw from Deon Ejim (Brampton, ON) got the X-Men on the board, but Huskies forward Marc-Denault Gabriel (Monreal, QC) answered with a whirling post up off the glass. However, the X-Men went on a run of their own, as guard Dondre Reddick (Antigonish, NS) scored in the post, before forwards Bennett Grumbach (Toronto, ON) and Jeremiah Usiosefe (Hamilton, ON) drained three-pointers. However, a buzzer-beating shot by Huskies guard Devawn White (Montreal, QC), closed the quarter with the home team ahead 23-18.
Early in the second, X-Men guard Matt Pennell (St. John's, NL) found an offensive rebound and a dish to Marcus Upshaw (Burlington, ON) for a triple. But Diggs checked back in, and pump-faked Pennell and the help defender each off their feet before swishing a three to the crowd's delight. However, Pennell stayed active, grabbing his own missed three as for a successful second effort and a seven-point advantage. Gabriel got aggressive, and bullied Usiosefe in the post, earning an and-one as part of a first half double-double. The swingy plays continued when Reddick lost his footing and was called for an intentional foul to halt a fastbreak from Huskies guard Shae Linton-Brown (Toronto, ON). The Huskies got free throws and the ball back, and the X-Men called timeout after a Linton-Brown three-pointer. Nonetheless, the Huskies took the lead off a pair of Gabriel free throws with 96 seconds remaining in the half. But a pair of offensive rebounds and a layup from Reddick was the difference, and the Huskies took a two point lead into the half, 40-38.
In the third, a tense scoring drought and intense rebounding competition was interrupted by Diggs layup, evening the score at 46 apiece. In response, Pennell pulled-up for a triple before X-Men forward Gloire Koua (Brazzaville, Congo) finished a precision drop-in alley-oop from guard Antoine Vernon (Hamilton, ON). Undeterred, Diggs hit from behind the arc, and Gabriel finished an and-one in transition, restoring the Huskies lead at 52-51. To the disappointment of the crowd, this lead was quickly erased with back-to-back threes from X-Men guard Koat Thomas (Waterloo, ON). With an opportunity for a two-for-one in a three-on-one transition, Huskies guard Tjark Lademacher passed up multiple open looks from three, but ultimately facilitated a shot clock violation, and two free throws for X-Men guard Gatluak James (Windsor, ON) extended their advantage to 60-52 with one quarter remaining.
The final frame began with threes from Diggs and Maerz and a transition layup from Gabriel to cut the lead to 64-60, precipitating an X-Men timeout. They went back to Ejim in the post for a lay-in, and Upshaw picked off a pass to Maerz for a pair at the line, the second of which was missed but collected by James, who finished the combined four-point possession. Linton-Brown found Gabriel for a change-of-pace corner three, before resuming his onslaught at the rim. Unfortunately, what looked like a certain stop for the Huskies instead ended in a timeout and an eight-point deficit, when a rebound somehow found its way to Reddick for a layup. Shortly thereafter, Huskies hopes were dashed with a dagger from deep from Grumbach, and an Upshaw-to-Ejim alley-oop.
Player of the Game Deon Ejim led the X-Men with 24 points on 11-20 shooting, and eight of his 12 rebounds were on the offensive glass, while Marcus Upshaw (four points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals) and Matt Pennell (11 points on 3-7 3PT, seven rebounds, and three assists) combined for 48 inspired minutes of guard play off the X-Men bench.
Huskies guard Marc-Denault Gabriel stuffed the stat sheet with 27 points on 11-17 shooting, 16 rebounds, six steals, and three assists. Jayrell Diggs fought through injury for 14 points (5-9 FG, 3-7 3PT), and Shae Linton-Brown earned ten trips to the line as part of a 12 point, four rebound, three assist, two steal contribution.
The X-Men win improves their record to 5-3, heading into the winter break. They'll host the Memorial Sea-Hawks on Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. for their first game of 2024.
The Huskies loss drops their record to 2-6 on the campaign. They'll host the Memorial Sea-Hawks on Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. at the Homburg Centre.
Recap by Dr. Casper Macaulay / Saint Mary's Huskies Athletics