The Saint Mary’s University men’s basketball team is undefeated, feeling the pressure and hoping for an Atlantic University Sports Championship.
“I much rather the pressure of trying to be undefeated than trying to scrape into the playoffs,” head coach Jonah Taussig told The Signal.
Taussig has been head coach of the team for seven years. In his first year, the team ended its season with a 6-14 record. Now, more than half way through the season, the team is 12-0. Taussig said the job is fun, but it’s not something you work at for a couple hours and go home. Mentally, it’s 24 hours a day.
“Your mind’s on the next game, your mind’s on your opponents, your mind’s on how you can get your team to do better or play harder,” Taussig said while watching his team perform warm up drills on the court. “I put pressure on myself and I feel that more than any other external pressure, but it’s a lot of fun at the same time.”
The Saint Mary’s men’s basketball team is the strongest defensive team in the league, according to AUS team stats. Taussig said, in most games, the team can keep an opponent from scoring for about five consecutive minutes.
“We’re a good team right now because we got a lot of good players,” he said.
Those players include second-year student, Nikita Kasongo who is currently the U Sports Rookie of the year, and fifth-year co-captain Kemar Alleyne, who is an AUS first team all-star player. According to coach Taussig, points wise, there’s not one outstanding player, as many score double digit points every game.
Alleyne said this year’s team is the most cohesive one he’s been part of at SMU. Being undefeated feels great, he said, but the close games are the real challenge.
“Close game atmosphere, they really test our true character,” he said. “I’ve never had a 12-0 start here at SMU yet, but we’re still not satisfied.
“To me, a successful season is winning the AUS championship and then getting ourselves to Nationals.”
The clash of basketballs and the echo of voices traveled down the Homburg Centre gym as Alleyne looked out at his teammates.
“I love all the guys. This being my last year I’m going to miss a lot of them, so I’m going to enjoy the moment.”
Alleyne started at Saint Mary’s University in 2014, the year after SMU won its last AUS Championship. This year is Alleyne’s final chance to win a championship with the school.
“I think me being a fifth year, for me personally, I’ve come up short these past few years in the finals so this year I really want to win,” he said.
“If we don’t win — I’ll be disappointed.”
Taussig said he likes the chances of SMU winning the AUS championship.Currently the University of New Brunswick is ranked second in the league with a record of 8-5. Coach Taussig says the AUS coach of the year award is the last thing on his mind in the season. The last AUS basketball coach of the year was awarded to SMU coach Ross Quackenbush in 1993.
At the Jan. 24 and Jan. 26 games against Acadia University, the SMU team hopes to continue their undefeated season with a double win. Their last game against Acadia was in early November; SMU won 94-81.
“Our goal is to win,” said Taussig. “But I think that’s everyone’s goal, to win the AUS championship and to say it would not be a successful season if that didn’t happen … I don’t know if that’s necessarily true.
“The journey is important too.”