Magic Fizzles In Second Half As Red River Tops CMU In Conference Final
Jon Hayter sunk "the shot heard 'round the province" against the #2 Providence Pilots in Saturday's MCAC Men's Basketball semifinal with 4.4 seconds left on the clock to give CMU a 67-66 win, but the tides turned on the Blazers on Sunday when they faced the defending seven-time champs in the MCAC Final.
Their opponent, another unlikely Championship entry, was the fourth-seeded Red River Rebels who stumbled through the regular season, only finding their game in the final weeks of the season. Fourth year All-Conference selection Taylor Brown returned to the lineup in January along with dynamic pass-first point guard Matt Dyck who ran the Rebels offense for the last seven games of the season. Despite the upgrade to the quality of the lineup, the Rebels managed a modest 2-10 regular season record and were just 2-5 over the second half of the MCAC season.
The story of the first quarter was foul trouble. A major factor in Saturday's semifinal win with 34 minutes played, scoring 13 points with 9 rebounds, Jacob Penner found himself sidelined with three personal fouls by the 7 minute mark of Sunday's game. The Rebels took advantage of his abence and the bonus free-throws, grabbing an early lead of nine points before the Hayter scored on a leaner that cut the lead to 24-18 by the end of the quarter.
CMU continued to claw their way back in the second half, as second-year guard Matt Warkentin rewarded Will Switzer on the fast-break to make the score 28-24 and moments later, Hayter dialed-in from distance for three of his halftime leading 18 points and a deficit of 28-27. Then down 33-27, Jordan Neufeld was fouled as he slashed into the lane at the buzzer to score two and the second-year forward cut the lead back to 3 points by converting the free-throw; 33-30 in favour of Red River.
The whistles continued to plague CMU in the opening minutes of the second half. After Rebels' forward Ezzy Lerner completed a three-point play to build a margin of ten for the defending champs, Warkentin received his fifth foul with five minutes left in the third quarter. CMU would miss his presence over the final fifteen minutes on both ends of the court.
Sharpshooting forward Gliff Macalua's three-ball that gave Red River a 68-51 lead, all but iced the game for the Rebels. Macalau topped his team with 26 points, shooting 12 for 24 in the game. After Switzer knocked down his own three-pointer to renew some hope of a comeback, Dyck responded immediate with a 3-ball of his own to kill the charge and lead the Rebels to their eighth-consecutive MCAC title; certainly their most surprising on record.
Hayter would finish as the championship's scoring leader with 33 points on 10-for-25 from the field and the 2nd year guard added 12 rebounds to his statistical total. Certainly injuries to CMU's Adam Bergen and Kyle Booy played major factors in the Blazers stretch run and Championship aspirations, but the two veterans gave everything they could to the cause, adding insight and emotion to new roles on the CMU sideline.
The Blazers finished with three of the top six scorers in the conference; Hayter, Bergen and Penner and were categorically the MCAC's best rebounding team. CMU finished the season with a 5-7 regular season conference record, a marked improvement from their two win season of 2014-15.