Simon Farine has the Dalhousie Tigers on his back and is carrying them toward territory they haven’t been in 13 years.
The third-year guard followed up Friday’s 45-point quarter-final effort with 28 points on Friday as Dal edged the nationally-ninth-ranked Cape Breton Capers in the Atlantic University Sport Final 6 men’s basketball semifinals at the Metro Centre.
The Tigers, in search of their first title since 1996, face the St. Francis Xavier X-Men in Saturday’s final at 7 p.m.
“We thought at the beginning of the year we were one of the better teams in the conference,” said Farine, whose Tigers entered the Final 6 seeded third. “We had a rough middle stretch of the season (five losses in seven games) but we’re proving now we’re one of the better teams in the (AUS). Hopefully we’ll come out (in the final) and win again.”
Dal actually led the nail-biter by 19 points after going on a 21-4 run in the third quarter. But the gritty Capers battled back with a 22-5 run of their own in a thrilling finish for the crowd of 5,149.
Cape Breton led 68-66 when first-team all-star Phillip Nkrumah fouled out with 18 points and 17 rebounds with 4:42 to go. That turned the tide. Dal’s key plays down the stretch came from Farine, on a three-point play to put the Tigers up for good with 73 seconds left, and Andrew Sullivan, with a pair of free throws with just 4.3 seconds on the clock.
Second-year Capers guard Tremaine Fraser of North Preston had a chance for a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer but drove in for a layup, a play his head coach, Jim Charters, chalked up to inexperience.
“He just made a mistake,” Charters said.
Fraser had 18 points for the Capers. After Farine, Josh Beattie (11 points) and Yannick Walcott (10 points) were Dalhousie’s top scorers. Farine has accounted for almost 44 per cent of the Tigers’ offensive through two games at the Final 6.
The top-seeded X-Men, with top scorer Tyler Richards of Halifax on the sidelines, stormed to a 89-60 win over the P.E.I. Panthers in the other semifinal, taking a big step toward silencing doubters.
There were questions how the X-Men would react after a tumultuous week off the court. Richards, Eamon Morrissy and William Donkoh were ordered by the school to sit out the Final 6 after all three were charged last Monday with assault causing bodily harm.
But the X-Men went on an 18-0 run at the start of the second quarter to grab a 24-point lead and didn’t look back once.
“Tyler’s one of our best players, but we have one of the deepest teams in the AUS, maybe the country,” said Halifax’s Will Silver, who stepped into the X-Men’s starting rotation and had 15 points.
“A lot of people probably didn’t think we could do it, but we did.”
The X-Men, who were knocked out in the semifinals the previous two years, received a balanced effort, with 13 points from conference MVP Christian Upshaw of Halifax, 11 points apiece from Terrence Taylor and Alberto Rodriguez, and a team-high 17 from Jeremy Dunn.
The early lead gave the X-Men a chance to rest their star players. Upshaw only saw 26 minutes and no player was on the floor for more than 31. Nine players recorded points.
“To have our bench players come in and play the way they did, it’s big to get our key players off the floor at the end,” said Silver, a third-year guard. “It gets them rested and keeps their legs good.”
The X-Men had a bye to the semifinals, while Dal has slugged out two hard-fought wins, with Farine logging 79 minutes.
“We’ve got to get home and get some rest and come out ready to play (in the final), play tough,” said Farine, a 6-foot-2 Toronto native. “Hopefully it will be clicking. With a big crowd, in the final championship game, the adrenaline will be pumping and we’ll feel good.”