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Fans swarm the Scotiabank Centre for U Sports men’s basketball tournament

Strong support shows why Halifax is the "mecca of basketball"

5 min read
caption Dal fans cheer as their starting lineup is announced for the semi-final game on Saturday, March 11
Alex Rose
caption Dal fans cheer as their starting lineup is announced for the semi-final game on Saturday.
Alex Rose

This past weekend, Halifax hosted the men’s college basketball championship for the 31st time. The championship, which was played in the Scotiabank Centre, is known as Final 8 as it’s an eight-team, single-game elimination tournament that lasts four days.

The Carleton Ravens beat the Ryerson Rams in the final, and Dalhousie University beat McGill University to win the bronze, their first ever medal in men’s basketball.

caption Ryerson fans travelled from Toronto to cheer on their team.
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Joel Jacobson and Lorne Abramson are, respectively, the co-chair of the media centre and a member of the media committee for U Sports, which is the governing body for university sport in Canada. Jacobson estimated that at least 23,000 fans attended the tournament over the four days. Both he and Abramson think Halifax is the perfect host for the event.

“It’s small enough that it attracts attention when something big happens,” said Abramson.

Jacobson agreed.

“In a smaller centre, like this, it’s the big thing. It’s the place to be seen; it’s the place where you know you’re going to see a good product,” he said. “And I think that’s what makes Halifax so good.”

caption Kevin MacDonald came to support the Rams.
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Abramson also said the kindness of east coast fans is important.

“I think it’s kind of a very nice feeling in the Maritimes,” he said. “It’s not nastiness; you don’t see a lot of bad sportsmanship out here.”

caption Jalen Simms (L) and Ryan Sura hold up a giant cutout of Ryerson Rams star Adika Peter-McNeilly’s face.
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Jacobson saw something similar when McGill lost the bronze medal game to Dalhousie.

“The fans behind their bench, who were Halifax fans … were up and applauding them,” said Jacobson. “I don’t know if you would see that at too many other centres.”

caption The Fall River Rebels played the Cole Harbour Rockets during the championship game’s halftime on Sunday.
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The Dalhousie Tigers were also happy to play in and for their hometown.

“It feels amazing to have brought back something to a community that has given so much to us and invested a lot in us. The support has been amazing,” said Ritchie Kanza Mata, the team’s starting point guard.

“This building just brings out the best in us; we have the fondest and greatest memories in this building. There couldn’t have been a better place to have won.”

caption Carleton fans got to see their team win the championship.
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“There’s something about this building,” added Kashrell Lawrence, Dalhousie’s star forward. “Fans are always lovely, always very supportive. You guys (the media) are always great to us. We have a lot of fun in this building … somebody said Halifax is the mecca of basketball (and) they weren’t lying.”

Forward Sven Stammberger finds that the Tigers have a particular advantage playing in the Scotiabank Centre.

“Knowing the confusing three-point lines, so we don’t shoot from too far away,” he said. “Coaches hammered that into us.”

Head coach Rick Plato won the national championship with the Saint Mary’s Huskies when they hosted the tournament at the Scotiabank Centre in 1978. “I’m old enough to have won a couple of times here over the years,” he said. “It never gets old, never gets boring.”

caption Gabrielle Nichols and Jason Vandenberg started planning in January to get Ravens fans to Halifax for the tournament.
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Jason Vandenberg, who helped organize the Carleton contingent of fans, said they were having a great time in Halifax. Some went to Alexander Keith’s brewery, others went out for lobster, and still more spent their Saturday night at Pacifico.

“Everyone had a really good time,” he said. “And it’s here again next year, right? So I guess we’re gonna have to come out again.”

caption A young fan celebrates with the Carleton Ravens.
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Acadia University will host the Final 8 at the Scotiabank Centre next year. If Jacobson and others have their way, it won’t be the last time.

“I just hope after next year … that Halifax will become the host on a reasonably long-term basis,” he said.

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