UTM White were the favourites for the title in this year’s championship final, but finished their sixth consecutive season without a trophy after a dismal display last Wednesday in the RAWC, losing to Rotman Commerce 62-75.
If the opening 40 seconds were any indication, this was going to be a very one-sided affair. The home crowd thought they had come to see a spectacle: their team had gone undefeated throughout the year, were first overall in the division, and had beat Rotman 83-67 in their first game of the season on October 2. But that previous encounter may have helped the Rotman squad figure out just how to compete with UTM White, and in fact they did more than compete.
Rotman’s sublime big man, Duncan Milne, was immovable and unstoppable throughout the game and led both teams in points in the first half with 15, accounting for one third of his team’s tally by the break. His team was more aggressive and much quicker with the ball than the Eagles from the outset. Their defence nullified almost every White threat to cross into their paint, restricting Coach Juan Nunez’s men to taking shots from behind the three-point line. It took the Whites 13 long minutes to bag their first three-pointer through Zakariya Khan.
Khan was a bright spot for UTM, giving a good performance in the first half as the only Eagles player capable of sinking shots in the opposition’s paint. With UTM fighting for their lives, Eagles shooting guard Josh Cordinera gave the fans something to cheer about, faking the three-point shot and dribbling around two Rotman defenders to score. His basket had the crowd of some 200 supporters cheering at their loudest. But Milne and Rotman made up for mistakes on the defensive end with a stellar offensive performance, leading White at the half with a commanding 46-33 lead.
Milne wasn’t done when the second half began. The 6’9” centre managed to get on the board with an emphatic dunk over a helpless Haris Nurkanoviz while getting fouled.
The home crowd was hoping for a comeback. UTM White was making it into the offensive end and around Milne and his supporting cast, but they had a steep hill to climb. The team had to overturn a 17-point deficit the same way that, a week prior, their Woodsworth opponents had done in the semifinal to force the match into overtime. Under Nunez’s coaching, Eagles were aggressive in the paint, finding the open man and grabbing the rebound when a shot didn’t fall—and, unfortunately, few did. But Milne broke the hearts of any UTM fans still holding out for a comeback when his second dunk solidified a 20-point gap.
It became evident that White was to end their stellar season in disappointing fashion. The team didn’t put their heads down, though, but nabbed a few more buckets. In the final minutes, another awful blow was dealt to UTM when Josh Cordinera suffered an ankle injury that made him watch his team’s undefeated streak come to an end. The final score of 75-62 meant Rotman had their first-ever championship title.
Nunez was heartbroken. “This game was primarily lost due to the fact that our energy rate was not constant,” he said. “We were doing well in some periods and not in others. We put in a lot of effort in the first half. Our lack of effort in the second half came from our fear of Milne, who was very much on his game today, and of losing the game. Mistakes can happen, but a lack of effort is a choice.”
However, he is very much determined to lead his team to another successful season next year. “I love my guys,” he said. “It’s a tough loss, but we have to keep our heads up. Last year we were in the semis [and] this year we made it to the final, so if we keep on progressing, then we’ll end up winning the championship next season.
“It’ll be our vengeance year,” he said.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Duncan Milne (Rotman): A dazzling display by the tall #42 from the first minute until the last. Milne was a monster on offence and defence. He finished the game with 27 points.
“It’s wonderful to win here,” said Milne. “We were much more prepared for this game than the last. We were especially ready for their famed press. They were the hardest team we’ve had to deal with this season.”