On Wednesday night, students flocked to the RAWC gym to watch an epic showdown in the Division 1 men’s basketball finals. UTM came into the game having lost only once all season, to Rotman no less, but the Eagles were still the clear favourites to win. However, Rotman entered with a lot of confidence as well, having won their regular season matchup against UTM 86-81 while also beating UTM in the finals last year (in a decision that was eventually overturned because Rotman was found to have a former pro player on their team). The crowd was clearly excited before the game, and the players seemed to feed on this energy, making for a thrilling atmosphere as the game began.
In the opening minutes of the game, it was clear that Rotman had come to play. There was a lot of energy coming from both sides, but Rotman was keeping possession very well, and was opening up many shots. UTM looked out of sorts, struggling to keep up with the fast pace set by their opponents. The Eagles were still scoring with some good shooting, but Rotman kept up the attack and was clearly in control, leading 20-10 after 10 minutes.
UTM seemed to find a small spark after this, picking up the pace of their play and looking more organized with their defence. Despite this, Rotman was not letting up, and a few minutes later not much had changed, Rotman leading 24-16. Finally UTM started to find the level of play that had won them so many games earlier in the season. As the first half wound down, the Eagles kept better possession of the ball, forcing several Rotman turnovers and creating more quality openings. Momentum was clearly with the Eagles, and they managed to close the deficit considerably, ending the first half with Rotman leading only 36-32.
As the second half began, the action was much faster and competitive from both teams. UTM maintained their momentum from the first half, but Rotman was not as complacent and was matching almost every basket by the Eagles. Despite this, UTM benefited from the emotion in the crowd and slowly closed the gap, forcing Rotman into calling a nervous timeout with UTM trailing just 45-44.
After this, both teams continued pushing, and eventually the Eagles’ hard work paid off with a tied score at 50. They dd not let up, and a minute later an acrobatic play gave them their first lead of the game at 55-53. The following minutes of play were extremely tight, both teams matching basket for basket, neither able to gain a clear advantage.
The crowd was still fully behind the home team, but Rotman had come to play and did not give any free points. With only a few minutes remaining, Rotman managed to retake the lead with a three-pointer, and this seemed to completely shift the momentum. Rotman had found a groove and had organized their attack, and it seemed as though nothing was going well for the Eagles anymore. With only two minutes remaining, UTM was trailing 77-66, and were forced to call a timeout. After this, the Eagles began pushing for fast breaks and other fast points, but they were luckless and Rotman continued to take advantage of bad bounces and unfortunate mistakes. Eventually the buzzer sounded to end the game with Rotman taking an 82-66 victory.
Despite the loss in the final, coach Juan Nunez was happy with his team’s success this season. “I am extremely proud of our guys. We had another great season and we finished that game battling and trying to get the win until the last second. As a coach that the best thing I can ask for—effort all game until the last whistle,” he said.
Nunez, who is graduating this June, has been a dedicated coach for three years and has grown with his team over this period. “Since I started coaching the UTM men’s team in the 2012/13 season, I have truly enjoyed watching our guys grow both as players and as individuals,” he said. “For me especially, this situation was extremely enjoyable, being able to be around the guys for extended periods of time and get to know each one personally.”
Nana Acquah, a third-year student at UTM, agrees with Nunez about the togetherness of the team. “The cohesiveness of the team play was largely what contributed to our 10-1 regular season record,” he said. “Trusting our teammates to be at the right place and right time, not only on the offensive end but on the defensive as well, was part of the team play that equated to our success.”
Acquah has only been on the team for a year, but he was a major contributor. “My favourite part of being on the team this season was developing a special and unique relationship with each member on the roster—this allowed for fluidity and trust on the court,” he said.
Nunez also wanted to show his appreciation towards the students who have helped give the team an edge in home games. “To our fans, I would like to thank them for coming out and supporting the team,” he said. “I hope everyone enjoyed the games and I encourage them to come out every home game next season to support our team and all other UTM teams.”
Although the season is over for the men’s Division 1 basketball team, they have been proud of their success so far, and look to accomplishing more in years to come.
This article has been corrected from the print edition. It now reflects the fact that Rotman lost their claim to last year’s Div. 1 title after the game itself.