40-year wait is over for golden Mountaineers

Aminu Bello scored on a running jumper with 17 seconds remaining and the Mohawk Mountaineers scored an 89-86 victory over the Humber Hawks to win the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Championship in Ottawa on Saturday (March 3).

The Mountaineers had to withstand a last gasp attempt by the three-time defending champion Hawks to win the gold medal in men’s basketball for the first time since 1971-72.

Bello was named Mohawk’s player of the game with a 33-point performance, which included several three point baskets.

The game seemed always in doubt as both teams rallied from significant deficits on the scoreboard. Humber jumped to a 9-3 lead, but Mohawk managed to come all the way back to tie. Humber led 27-20 after one quarter.

In the second quarter the Mountaineers fell behind by 11 points, but aided by three straight 3-pointers by All-Canadian Bello Mohawk tied the game 38-38. However, Humber still managed to take a 48-44 lead to the dressing room.

In the third period, Mohawk, keyed by a seven-point run, really turned it on and, with a Tanner Lane 3-point basket, opened an 11 point lead themselves. Andrew Cicuttini got a hot hand and big Taylor Dowhaniuk was a monster blocking shots and hauling down rebounds.

But Humber was not done by any stretch of the imagination. Led by their player of the game, Mark Perrin and his 33 point effort, the Hawks got two straight turnovers and a foul and trailed only 69-66 at three quarter time.

In the fourth quarter, Humber continued its comeback and actually took the lead 74-73. The teams were tooth and nail the rest of the way and it wasn’t until Bello’s last minute heroics and Mohawk keeping its cool for the last 5-plus seconds that the Mountaineers knew the 40-year drought was over.

Manny Campbell of the Mountaineers was named Most Valuable Player in the championship. Campbell was surprised by the honour.

“I didn’t expect it. I wasn’t playing for myself. Everyone worked hard,” said Campbell.

Bello, Mohawk player of the game in the gold medal match, said he’d have to look at the video to see how he scored his big basket with 17 seconds left. “I saw a clear lane and I wanted to put enough arc on the ball. I guess it was a floating jumper,” said Bello.

Head coach Brian Jonker said “I couldn’t be prouder of this group. They work hard every day. They listen, they show up to practise and they go to classes.”

Jonker also said he’d been receiving notes of congratulations from many people, including Mohawk Hall of Famer Dave Bartolotta, who coached the Mountaineers last men’s championship team in 1972.

With their victory, the Mohawk Mountaineers advance to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association national championship in Truro, Nova Scotia March 15-17.

The team left Algonquin College in Ottawa by bus right after the game. They will get a couple of days to rest and on Tuesday, get back on the court to prepare for the national event.