By Kirk Jessome
It was an historic season for the 2019-20 Tigers men’s basketball team who were looking to claim their first U SPORTS national championship title.
Head Coach Rick Plato designed a gauntlet of challenging preseason match ups to ready his team for a long regular season and an always tough postseason. The Tigers were up to the task, recording a perfect 10-0 record against non-conference teams.
They used that momentum to carry themselves through the fall semester with a 6-0 record, and an average margin of victory of nearly 25 points before the holiday break. During that time, the Tigers took home a championship victory in the Rod and Joan Shoveller Memorial Men’s Basketball Tournament to end 2019 on a high note.
The Tigers had just one blemish on a nearly perfect regular season with a 78-77 loss to StFX in early January on the road. Rebounding after that loss, the Tigers finished out the rest of the season undefeated, culminating with a 19-1 record.
During the regular season, the Tigers led nearly every statistical category including points for and against, all three shooting percentages, rebounds, assists, turnovers and steals. Third-year Keevan Veinot was named an AUS first team all-star and the conference MVP after a stellar season. He became the first Tigers men’s basketball player to earn the honour. Alex Carson and Xavier Ochu also had great seasons, with Carson earning a second team all-star nod and Ochu was named the conference’s defensive player of the year.
With such a such a successful regular season, Coach Plato was careful to not think too far ahead as they moved into the playoffs.
“There are no such things as guarantees,” says Plato. “In fact, over confidence was a bit of a concern, so my focus was on just getting a little better every day.”
The Tigers record in the regular season gave them the number one seed in the AUS tournament, and a bye to take down Saint Mary’s in the quarter-final round with an 84-64 win to move on to face StFX in the championship game.
With 22 points on four shots from deep by Carson, and a near triple-double performance from Veinot, the Tigers were able to secure their fourth AUS championship banner in the last five seasons with a 76-64 win over the X-Men.
Carson was named the championship MVP while Veinot earned a spot on the championship all-star team. Veinot was also named a U SPORTS first team All-Canadian after leading the Tigers in points, steals, rebounds and assists, while Coach Plato was named the both the AUS and U SPORTS coach of the year.
With a hard-fought 67-63 win over the host Ottawa Gee-Gees in the quarter-final round and a dominant performance over UBC in the semifinals, the Tigers moved on to face Carleton in their first national final appearance in program history.
After holding the lead going into half-time, the game slowly slipped away from them as the Ravens were able to come back to secure a 74-65 win, leaving the Tigers with a silver medal; marking the best result in the team’s history.
Though losing the final may have been disappointing, Coach Plato knows the program is moving toward a goal next season.
“It was a record-breaking year in a number of ways, and although we had to settle for the silver, we took the next step. A few years ago, we won the bronze, this year it was our first national title game and the silver – there is still one step left.”