“I think I am having a heart attack.”
Those were the words of North Delta Huskies’ Gary Sandhu, one of the team’s coaches, moments after his ninth-seeded squad won the school’s first provincial banner since 1990, eking out a 46-44 victory to claim the 3A Tournament title at the BC Boys Basketball Championships on Saturday night at Langley Events Centre.
“I can’t believe we won. I am speechless, I am speechless,” he said, his voice trailing off and unable to finish his thought.
“I didn’t think we could come back. Vernon is so tough, they are so strong, so well-coached. Our guys just had the will not to die and the way we pulled out these last two wins … these boys are warriors,” Sandhu said.
Vernon led by four points with 74 seconds to play, setting the stage for a dramatic finish.
North Delta’s Arun Atker hit a three-pointer (his second of the quarter and third of the game) to pull his team within a point with 63 seconds to play. And then, for the second consecutive night, Suraj Gahir took control.
The wiry guard had the ball jarred loose as he drove the lane, but without missing a step, collected the ball and went glass and in for the 45-44 with 11.9 seconds to play. And then following a turnover, Gahir was fouled, hitting one of two free throws with 6.7 seconds remaining. The Panthers had one last attempt at the buzzer, but the ball would not drop, sending the large North Delta fan section rushing to the floor in pandemonium.
Gahir, who scored 10 of his game-high 18 points in the third quarter, banked home a three-pointer the night before in the closing seconds to defeat Prince George’s Duchess Park Condors, just to get his team to Saturday’s final.
“Mamba mentality,” answered the tournament’s Most Valuable Player when asked what is going through his mind with the game on the line. “I want that ball in my hands when it’s the end. I’ve got trust in my teammates too – Arun, he hit that big three in the end and I knew he was going to hit that. But I knew I needed that ball in my hands for that last play.”
The Huskies have spent part of the season ranked No. 1 but battled injuries to multiple players, including their star, Gahir, who was playing through torn ankle ligaments at provincials.
“This guy has carried the program for five years, he does everything and anything we ask. He has worked so hard (and) is a team player,” Sandhu said about Gahir. “I don’t know how he does it.”
“Since Grade 8, our coaches have preached playing for each other,” said Gahir, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “And we have wanted this for five years. I have been playing with these guys since I was a kid, so it feels great to win it with them.”
The title is the fourth in the history of the North Delta basketball program and the first in 29 years.
“It’s great to win it for them, because our school has been there for us,” Gahir said.
For the Panthers, it was a bitter pill to swallow as the school attempted to duplicate the feat of winning both a football and basketball championship (with some of the same players) in the same school year.
And Vernon gave North Delta all they could handle, outrebounding the Huskies 49-21 (including 20 offensive rebounds to the Huskies’ 21 defensive boards).
But in the end, they just could not close the game out.
“It comes down to a single bounce and it is just the way the game is played sometimes,” said Vernon coach Malcolm Reid, who was proud of his team’s gutsy effort in going up against both a worthy opponent and a crowd predominantly against them.
“We came here to win and we didn’t, so we are going to be upset about it, we are competitors, so are North Delta.”
The Panthers were led by 12 points and 18 rebounds from Kevin Morgan, 13 points and seven rebounds from Isaiah Ondrik and 11 points and eight rebounds from Thomas Hyett.
In the third-place game, Duchess Park defeated A.R. MacNeill 75-54.
A.R. MacNeill was also named the Most Sportsmanlike Team.
First Team All-Stars Second Team All-Stars
Arun Atker (North Delta) Usman Tung (A.R. MacNeill)
Soren Erricson (Duchess Park) Gurkaran Mangat (Rick Hansen)
Kevin Morgan (Vernon) Simon Crossfield (Sir Charles Tupper)
Geevon Janday (G.W. Graham) Thomas Hyett (Vernon)
Isaiah Ondrik (Vernon) Ryan Cabico (North Delta)