The 2022-23 season is now over for the NAIT Ooks men’s basketball team. This year was a season full of memorable moments and learning curves that provided quite the experience for all.
After a 13-7 regular season, the Ooks placed third in the ACAC North Division, which set up a play-in-round date against the King’s University Eagles, who edged out Concordia University for the sixth and final North Division playoff spot.
In the play-in game, the Ooks and Eagles scored a combined 202 points in a showdown for the ages. NAIT started the game with a 39-21 lead after just one quarter, and cruised to a 113-89 victory over King’s. Yasser Abdullahi finished with 32 points, and Benjamin Kamba was named NAIT’s player of the game by pouring in an additional 28 points. Both the Eagles and the Ooks had five players reach double-digit point totals on the night.
Moving on from the King’s, the Ooks faced a very tough challenge in the SAIT Trojans. Kamba and Abdullahi continued to light up the scoreboard at the start of the game. Kamba, the former Trojan, had five of NAIT’s first seven points, and an Abdullahi field goal had the Ooks leading 12-11 early.
SAIT then powered ahead for a large stretch of time, at one point putting up 10 consecutive points. NAIT, not to so easily be deterred, finished the first half on a 17-6 run, trailing by only six points at halftime.
In the second half, both NAIT and SAIT fought for control of the game. Despite the valiant efforts of the Ooks, the Trojans managed to pull away for good in the fourth at 73-69, winning the game 88-77 and continuing their quest for a sixth consecutive ACAC men’s basketball championship.
Even though they lost the game, the Ooks weren’t eliminated yet. Their next match would be against the host Ambrose Lions, who were coming off a 100-85 defeat to the then-undefeated Keyano College Huskies.
This semi-finals match, for a spot in the fifth-place game, started off quite similar to the play-in-game: fast-paced and high-scoring. After trading buckets back and forth, the Lions emerged with a 10-6 lead, only for NAIT to go on an 8-0 run to make it 14-10 just three and a half minutes into the contest.
The Ooks wouldn’t stop there. They continued their run, with the team getting motivated by a Lodie Kenyi steal and slam-dunk. Ambrose would stop the run, however, and go on to even up the match. NAIT managed to get a quarter-ending Kamba score to go into the second quarter up 26-24.
The second quarter wasn’t as high-scoring as the first but the Ooks slowly built on their first-quarter lead while limiting Ambrose to just three points through the first eight minutes of the frame.
NAIT’s strategy would prove effective in the second half when taking control of the game and preventing the Trojans from taking the lead. The game ended in a 98-85 victory by the Ooks. This finish gave the Ooks one more game to play during championship weekend.
The fifth-place game was like destiny, almost. The Ooks and Lakeland Rustlers were evenly matched and went head-to-head. Both of these teams fought all season for that coveted bye into Championship Weekend and were now fighting to finish in the top third of the entire ACAC.
The Ooks started off strong with a 16-6 lead in the first quarter, but Lakeland kept things close and managed to tie the score up, 18-18 by the quarter’s end. There would be no double-digit leads to speak of during the second quarter; once more the teams finished even, this time with the scoreboard reading 39-39.
The third quarter was where Lakeland started to edge ahead, taking a 55-47 lead and led 65-58 after the third.
The Ooks had one more quarter to play and weren’t out of it yet. A 15-8 run would tie the game up at 73 a piece with almost no separation until the very end, when Lakeland’s Noah Simpson drew a foul with three seconds left. After sinking both free throws, the Ooks took possession and had a three-point shot from Abdullahi that just missed the mark as time expired. The Rustlers won the game with a narrow 83-81 score and left NAIT with a sixth-place finish.
Humilde, Kamba, and Griffin Lorenz were the three Player of the Game winners for NAIT in their championship weekend matches; Humilde was named the ACAC North’s Rookie of the Year, and Kamba earned all-star honours for this season.