By Thomas Becker
(Charlottetown, PE) - The UPEI Panthers are left searching for answers after dropping an important four-point game at the hands of the Cape Breton Capers 90-70. With four teams stacked in the middle of the standings, including the Panthers and Capers, head coach Darrell Glenn was visibly disappointed after the 20-point drubbing, especially considering it was a "winnable game." On the other side, Capers (4-4) bench boss, Matt Skinn was thrilled to open the New Year with a big win and credits the annual Shoveller tournament for getting rid of the month-long rust. "We had this one circled on our calendar," he said. "It's a four-point game on the road to open up the year and I thought we played really well." Skinn's prized guard and MVP candidate, Osman Omar (Mississauga, ON) was a defensive nightmare for the opposition and went off for 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting, with six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. "He's just so quick," Skinn said. "The thing about Ossie is his attitude. He's just such a great guy. He comes to work every day and has bought in with what we're trying to do. I'm really proud of what he's doing"
The Panthers (3-5) hung around with Cape Breton throughout the first with both teams making eight field goals each. However, the Capers had the edge in the free throw department with five makes compared to UPEI's zero, allowing the visitors to take a 23-17 lead after one. Paul Watson (Mississauga, ON) led all scorers with seven of his 15 points in the early going, while Vernelle Johnson and Milorad Sedlarevic countered with four each.
The Panthers opened the second with a 14-5 surge to storm ahead 31-28. But that lead was short-lived, as the Capers returned the favour with a 15-0 run to take command 43-31. Jason Callaghan (Sydney, NS) and Omar combined for 11 of those points, as they carried a 43-38 advantage at the half. Callaghan finished with 20 points and shot 4-of-7 from distance.
Omar was a man on a mission in the second half and wasn't going to let this game slip away. The second-year guard scored 13 of his team's 25 third-quarter points by way of the mid-range jumper and attacks at the rim. His inspired effort extended Cape Breton's lead 68-59 heading into the fourth.
Their defence, meanwhile, improved each quarter, as UPEI's field goal percentage continued to dip. The Capers held the Panthers to just 11 points on 35.7 percent shooting in the final frame to come away with the 90-70 win
Skinn gave a lot of credit to Shacqier Locke (Mississauga, ON) for the team's stifling defence. Despite scoring just four points, the fifth-year forward pulled down 12 rebounds with three steals and two blocks. "He played for me before and that guy would run through a wall. He's unbelievable and how he rebounded late in the game was great."
The CAPERS travel to Fredericton next weekend for a pair of games against the UNB Reds.