The CMU Blazers started hot out of the gate in the men’s Final on Sunday afternoon, getting a 16-8 lead on Red River early. Blazers third-year forward Sam Kinsley shot 3-for-8 and led the Blazers with 9 points in the first half, but it was the collective play of CMU that helped them spread the ball out and keep the lead early.
The Rebels – who were looking for their program’s ninth straight men’s basketball title – didn’t get a lead until the 4:50 mark of the third quarter when Jonathan Wilner scored a layup to put the Rebels up 47-45. At this point the youth of CMU’s roster looked to be finally catching up with them, and Red River kept pushing.
CMU Head coach Billy Isaac was forced to take a timeout with Red River leading 54-47 in hopes of stopping the momentum. But it appeared to keep rolling in Red River’s favour when Gliff Macalua, who finished the game with 9 points, hit a 3 shortly before the third quarter was over. But CMU inbounded the ball and got it up the court just time for Evan Klassen to bang a 3 in response, and the third quarter ended with the Rebels up 58-56.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Blazers began to take control of the game by reclaiming the lead and playing a strong defence against RRC’s Taylor Brown and Jon Wilner – the two players who had carried much of the offensive load for Red River this season.
“We needed to shut down Jonathan, because he’s obviously a big part of what Red River did” says CMU head coach, Billy Isaac.
The Blazers were able to curb Wilner’s scoring to 13 points on the day, making him shoot 5-for-15 and keeping him from getting comfortable in the lane where he was deadly against University of Winnipeg College in the semifinal. And after racking up 18 points in the first half, Taylor Brown would add just 4 more in the second half to finish the night with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals.
Late in the game with CMU leading by 14 and RRC struggling to hit shots from the outside, it began to look like CMU had wrapped up the 2017 Final. But a couple of costly turnovers led to Red River getting the ball back and RRC’s Paul Luzige hit a couple of big threes late to cut the lead to 5. Issac used his timeouts to slow the pace and remind his players what they needed to do to weather the storm.
“I told them our offence still needs to attack because we can’t just stall away the game. We need to still look to attack and be at the rim.”
CMU would get to the foul line and make enough free throws to push their lead out of reach, and when the final horn sounded it was CMU on top 77-68.
Junior forward Sam Kinsley was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, after finishing the Final with 15 points, 20 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. With a gold medal around his neck and a huge smile on his face, he spoke about his confidence entering Sunday’s Final.
“I knew it was gonna be a battle with both teams punching, making their runs, but I knew we were gonna win. The boys were peaking at the right time so I mean that might sound cocky, but I knew we had each other’s backs and I knew we were gonna play the best game we’ve played all year”.
The win is Canadian Mennonite University’s first men’s basketball title since they won back-to-back in 2008 and 2007.