HALIFAX (U SPORTS) - The Carleton Ravens won their 17th W.P. McGee Trophy since 2003 with a thrilling double overtime 109-104 victory over the host STFX X-Men in the final game of the 2023 U SPORTS Men’s Final 8, a contest that will be talked about for years to come. The win came in front of over 9,000 fans at the Scotiabank Centre, part of the contingent of a tournament record-breaking attendance of 40,092 over the three-day event.
With 213 total points, Sunday’s game was the highest-scoring Final 8 game of all time, beating the previous record of 210 set in 2016, when Ryerson (as it then was) defeated UBC 109-101 (OT). The Ravens pulled off a double championship day as their women’s team also won the U SPORTS banner with a 71-59 win over Queen’s, marking the first time the same school has won both basketball banners since Victoria accomplished the feat in 1985.
X-Men guard Avan Nava had four of the first six points for his team, and the Nova Scotians lead by a point after the first three minutes. Both teams came out to play, and the loud Halifax crowd helped push the action in the X-Men’s favour. The Ravens went 4-10 with three-pointers in the first quarter while STFX was solid on defence, creating 10 points on turnovers, giving themselves a 27-17 lead after the first 10 minutes.
Dondre Reddick gave the home fans something to cheer about with a big dunk off a steal early in the second quarter, igniting an impressive run for the hosts, who took a 23-point lead – their largest of the night – with 3:22 left in the half. Carleton, which has never lost in a national championship game, did not fold under the pressure though, and cut the lead to 13 points at 48-35 as the half ended with a last-second three-pointer from Wazir Latiff.
The Ravens went on an impressive 11-1 run early in the third quarter, cutting the X-Men lead to three points in the first four minutes. Defensive player of the year and second-team All-Canadian David Muenkat had a big dunk off an alley-oop from Nava which brought the crowd back to life. On the other end, Aiden Warnholtz made a jumper to put Carleton up 56-55 with 3:04 left in the third, their first lead since being up 5-2 in the game’s early stages.
STFX started the fourth quarter leading 60-58 and increased it to six in the first four minutes. Warnholtz drained a pair of free throws with 3:36 to go to make tie the game up at 72 apiece. The teams traded scores late, and the tie remained until the last minute, with Nava's layup giving the hosts an 80-78 lead with 41 seconds left. An ill-advised X-Men foul put Warnholtz to the line for one shot, which he made to cut the lead to 80-79. After Nava drained a pair of free-throws to put the X-Men up 82-79 with 22 seconds left, it was Warnholtz, the first-team All-Canadian and player of the game for the Ravens, who had the last word in regulation as he hit a clutch three pointer with just three seconds left.
The Ravens went up by five in the first minute of the extra session, but the X-Men cut the margin to one at 90-89 with two minutes left. With the Ravens up 93-91 and ten seconds left, Warnholtz had a chance to put the game away, but only made one of his two free throws. Seven seconds later, Nava nailed a triple to tie the game at 94-94, sending the U SPORTS championship game to double overtime for the first time ever.
Three-pointers by Warnholtz and Vreeken put Carleton up 103-99 with a minute left in the second overtime, and Vreeken made three free throws in the final minute to put the game away.
For the X-Men, Muenkat finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds, while Nava had 30 points. Reddick chipped in 14, and Michael Utsale added 10.
All five of Carleton’s starters were in double figures, with Warnholtz, Vreeken and Wazir Latiff each netting 23, while Elliot Bailey had 21 and Grant Shephard added 17. Sheppard finished with a double-double, as he grabbed 12 rebounds, while Warnholtz also had a double-double as he made 11 assists.
For STFX, this is their first national medal since 2012, when they won bronze. They last won silver in 2004, when they also lost to Carleton in Halifax.
For Carleton, this marks their fourth title in a row and their 12th in the past 13 tournaments. Only the Calgary Dinos in 2018 and Covid-19 in 2021 have broken the Carleton run of dominance since 2011.
The 2024 Men’s Final 8 will be held in Québec City, with Université Laval acting as tournament host.
Nike Top Performers:
Carleton: Aidan Warnholtz
STFX: Avan Nava
Aidan Warnholtz, Carleton
Diego Maffia, Victoria
Dragan Stajic, Ottawa
David Muenkat, STFX
Aidan Warnholtz, Carleton
Grant Shephard, Carleton