With six players who averaged double-figure points during the regular season, the University of the Fraser Valley men’s basketball team is used to having a rotating cast of leading men.
In their playoff opener on Friday evening at the Envision Athletic Centre, it was reserve Vijay Dhillon stepping into the starring role.
The third-year combo guard out of Richmond’s R.C. Palmer Secondary actually wasn’t one of the aforementioned double-digit scorers, but he rang up a team-high 20 points on Friday, highlighted by a preposterous three-pointer to beat the shot clock in the final minute of regulation as the Cascades topped the Calgary Dinos 78-71 in Game 1 of their best-of-three Canada West quarter-final series.
UFV has a chance to close out the series in Game 2 on Saturday (6 p.m. tip-off, Envision Athletic Centre). Game 3, if necessary, would go Sunday at 2 p.m.
“He plays smart, and he obviously hit some big shots,” Cascades head coach Adam Friesen said, lauding Dhillon’s contributions. “We needed some big moments when they were making some big runs, and he made some big shots to sort of end it and get us back on track, get the momentum started in our direction again. It changed the trajectory of the game.”
Cascades power forward Nate Brown finished with 19 points, and centre Jasper Moedt led a dominant rebounding performance with a double-double (15 points, 13 rebounds). For the game, UFV out-boarded the Dinos 40-21.
Jared Ogungbemi-Jackson, the Dinos’ star fifth-year point guard, tied Dhillon for game-high scoring honours with 20 points, while Canada West rookie of the year Lars Schleuter scored 17 points and Josh Owen-Thomas notched 16 off the bench.
The Dinos got off to a solid start, building a 22-15 lead late in the first quarter, but the balance of the half was defined by wild momentum swings.
The Cascades tore off a 19-2 run to surge ahead 34-24, with Kevon Parchment exploding for seven quick points during that stretch. But Calgary responded with a 14-1 run to end the second quarter – Schleuter and Owen-Thomas knocked down two triples apiece in a span of less than three minutes as the visitors took a 38-35 lead into halftime.
The third quarter was all Cascades, though – they outscored the Dinos 21-11 in the frame, and they continued the momentum into the fourth and led 64-52 with six minutes remaining in regulation after Dhillon drilled a three-pointer.
But on the ensuing Calgary possession, Parchment – UFV’s emotional leader in the first half – fouled out of the game. That gave the Dinos a boost, and they chipped away at the deficit and got it down to 66-63 after a pair of free throws from Owen-Thomas with 1:35 left.
On the next trip down, Brown fearlessly swished a three-pointer from the top of the arc, drawing the home fans to their feet. But Ogungbemi-Jackson responded with a clutch trey of his own to get it to 69-66, and there was still more than a minute remaining.
Dhillon inserted the dagger on the next UFV possession. With the shot clock ticking down, Moedt found Dhillon with a skip pass from the post, and took a dribble to gather himself before hoisting a desperation three-pointer with Ogungbemi-Jackson right in his face. The ball found nothing but net, restoring the Cascades’ six-point lead with 41.4 seconds left, and the Dinos were forced to foul from that point.
“I saw Jasper pick up his dribble, so I just tried to get in passing position,” related Dhillon, who averaged 8.8 points per game during the regular season. “And then once I took the ball, I looked up and saw it was at two seconds (on the shot clock) and just prayed it went in.
“It was just like any other game – I come off the bench and try to do my role, play off these other guys.”
“It was a tough one – Calgary gave us all we could handle,” Friesen said. “We were fortunate to come away with a win. It was a game of runs – we just happened to kind of hang on, and the clock ran out in the middle of their last run.”