LLOYDMINSTER, ALTA, (March 2, 2019) - For the third straight season, the SAIT Trojans men's basketball team are the best in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC).
In a battle of the two top teams in the league, the Trojans emerged the victors, beating the Concordia University of Edmonton Thunder 95-84 in the ACAC Men's Basketball Conference Championship gold medal game played Saturday night inside host Lakeland College in Lloydminster, Alta.
"Every one of these guys are awesome; I love them," said Trojans head coach Marty Birky, after securing his third consecutive ACAC crown. "Concordia made us fight for everything we got tonight. . . I couldn't be more happy."
The win gives the Trojans men's basketball program its 15th ACAC title. The run of three straight is the first the league has seen since the NAIT Ooks went back-to-back-to-back from 2002-04.
"It was a tough tournament," said Trojans guard, John Smith. "I haven't seen that triple teams like that since playing back home in open gyms. It was a gruelling tournament, but it was fun and so rewarding."
Unfortunately for Concordia, their hopes of earning their school's first title will have to wait a little longer.
SAIT will now move on to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) National Championship, hosted by Langara College from March 14-16 in Vancouver.
The last two years, SAIT has not finished the way they would have wanted to on the national stage. When asked what needs to change this year, Birky answered quickly before racing over for a team photo.
"Nothing changes," he said. "We need to go out and get wins."
Ian Tevis led the Trojans on Saturday night with a game-high 35 points. Not only was he named the Player of the Game for his team, he also walked away with the Tournament MVP award.
More importantly, the fifth-year guard from Kent, Wash., finally won the championship that has eluded him his whole career. While Trojans posed for photos with family and friends, Tevis sat in the front row of the stands with his head down staring at his gold medal.
"It's my last year of college, so I had to leave it all out here," he said, fighting back tears. "I played my heart out. . . I don't have much else to say, to be honest."
Tevis' tournament also included a triple-double (25 points, 12 assists, 10 steals) in their quarter-final 98-77 win over Lakeland College on Thursday, and 28 points in their 112-96 semifinal win over Medicine Hat College on Friday.
"I'm always smiling and having fun, but I didn't have that today," Tevis continued. "I was focused like I have never been before. . . I worked so hard for this."
Saturday's game didn't start out that great for the Trojans. Concordia came out and started hitting shots early, while SAIT spun their wheels trying to get going. Before they knew it, Smith had two fouls, which left Birky a little worried.
"Our star player got into foul trouble, but other guys stepped up," explained Birky. "To play with four fouls is a difficult thing, but he came back in and was still aggressive and still hit big shots. He did what he has been doing all year for us."
After Tevis hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to bring the Trojans within two following the first quarter, SAIT got rolling in the second quarter. Both Tevis and Smith scored seven points each, but it was defensive whiz Camille Kamba who picked the pocket of Thunder guards twice to stop their attack.
When halftime hit, it was the Trojans in front by two, 44-42.
The Thunder, who had been buoyed all season by the ultra talented duo of ACAC Player of the Year Ryan McLaren and Ronald Bacon Jr, received a combined 66 points in their quarter-final win over Ambrose University, and 59 points in their semifinal victory over the University of Alberta-Augustana Vikings.
On Saturday, the Trojans held them to just 36 points - 19 for Bacon and 17 for McLaren.
"We knew if we got stops on them, the other guys on their team would have to beat us, and that's when things would go our way," Smith said. "And that's exactly what happened. Because we score a lot of points, our defence gets overlooked, but I'm proud of my teammates for the work they did on our side of the court."
Concordia took back the lead briefly in the middle of the third quarter, but could not do enough to separate themselves.
When Tevis nailed a three-point shot with 6:27 left in the fourth, the Trojans took a 75-72 lead and never relinquished it again.
"I came to SAIT for these games," finished Tevis. "For me to come out here, and get the job done with this group of guys is really special."
Smith and teammate Nick Molina were named to the Tournament All-Star team.
McLaren and Bacon Jr. were also named Tournament First Team All-Stars for the Thunder.