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PHOTO ESSAY: Historic Final 8 thrills hoops fans in Halifax

2023 U Sports men's basketball tournament breaks attendance record

5 min read
caption StFX guard Dondre Reddick got fans out of their seats by starting the second quarter with a slam dunk, sending the arena into a roar on March 12, 2023.
Elena Neufeld

The Carleton Ravens and the St. Francis Xavier (StFX) X-Men have made Final 8 hoops history and The Signal was in downtown Halifax to capture it.

The atmosphere was electric as more than 9,000 fans poured into Scotiabank Centre to witness the 61st national men’s basketball championship on March 12.  The three-day tournament drew “record-breaking” attendance of 40,092, according to U Sports.

caption StFX fans cheer on the sidelines underneath the basket showing off their school colours at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax during the championship game.
Elena Neufeld

After tipoff, the X-Men dominated the court leading 27-17 at the end of the first quarter. 

caption Ravens guard Connor Vreeken (left) attempts a three-pointer as X-Men guard Steven Levnaic goes to block him in the first quarter of the championship game at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

The second quarter went much the same.

Down 48-35 at halftime, the Ravens came out of the locker room on a mission. The third quarter ended with the X-Men only scoring 12 points — despite four steals — and shooting 25 per cent from the field. The Ravens shot 69 per cent and came within a basket, 60-58.

Fouls were constantly being called, upsetting fans and coaches on both sides. 

Players took turns at the free throw line over and over as opposing fans hollered and waved to distract them.

caption Ravens guard Aiden Warnholtz at the free-throw line at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

Both teams shot 100 per cent from the line, nailing a combined 16 free throws — six for the X-Men and 10 for the Ravens.

Carleton sent the game into overtime tied at 82.

caption Carleton Ravens head coach Taffe Charles reacts to a referee’s call during first overtime at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

The men played neck and neck with StFX guard Avan Nava draining a three-pointer — three seconds left on the clock — to tie the first overtime. 

caption X-Men forward and U Sports defensive player of the year David Muenkat maintains focus during second overtime at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

But Carleton gained the lead and won it all 109-104, a record-breaking score and the first Final 8 to  make it to double overtime in U Sports basketball history.  

caption The buzzer sounds and the Carleton Ravens are named the U Sports men’s basketball champions at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

The previous record was set in 2016, when Toronto Metropolitan University defeated the University of British Columbia 109-101 in overtime, according to U Sports. 

StFX fell silent while Carleton ran into an emotional, excited huddle. For some, this would be their first Final 8 win, while for others, their fourth. 

caption Ravens players Gabrael Samaha (left) and Reginald Jean Seraphin embrace after winning the Final 8 at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

Carleton head coach Taffe Charles praised his team for fighting back. 

“We believed that we could win the game even though we were down 13,” he told The Signal. “We just knew that we got to keep grinding again, keep grinding, keep grinding.” 

caption The Carleton Ravens hoist the W.P. McGee Trophy above their heads at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

The Nike top performers of the game were Aiden Warnholtz from Carleton and Nava from StFX.

caption X-Men guard Avan Nava (left) focuses on his free throw as Ravens guard Aiden Warnholtz (right) waits during the Final 8 championship game in Halifax.
Elena Neufeld

Warnholtz was named tournament MVP, leading Carleton to its 17th men’s basketball national victory since 2003.

The 2024 Final 8 championship is taking place in Quebec City, hosted by Université Laval.

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