Saint Mary’s Huskies Looking to Avenge AUS Championship Loss in 2019-20

Kaosngo, Nikita
Nikita Kasongo, left, and the Saint Mary’s Huskies will look to avenge last year’s loss in the AUS Championship game in 2019-20. (Source: The Chronicle Herald) (Header: Trevor MacMillan – U Sports)

HALIFAX, NS — If you’re reading this, it’s not too late.

The 2019-20 basketball season is right around the corner, and we’re here to help you get set for what will surely be an incredible journey.

While we’re still looking back on an incredible 2018-19 season, one that saw two teams win their first-ever National Championships in school history, it’s also the perfect time to look ahead. The 2019-20 season promises to deliver a heightened level of excitement, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for the new campaign.

To get fans across the country ready for the new season, we’ve taken on a challenge that hasn’t been done before. In the coming weeks, we will preview every team from coast to coast ahead of the 2019-20 season.

That’s 111 different programs, if you’re keeping a tally.

From August 8th through to October 6th, every team will be previewed in some capacity. For institutions that have both men’s and women’s basketball, a separate preview piece will be done for each team.

Rosters will be dissected and a look back at the year that was will help us determine what the team looks like this time around as every team begins with a blank slate in the standings.

Without further adieu, here is today’s preview on the men’s basketball program for the Saint Mary’s Huskies.

2018-19 in Review

Given the way the year started for the Saint Mary’s Huskies, the 2018-19 AUS season ended in heartbreak.

With their sights set squarely on an AUS Championship and a spot at Nationals, the Huskies were the team to beat in the AUS all season long. They won 19 straight regular season contests, with their only loss coming in the regular season finale. The Huskies dropped their last road game of the season, an 88-76 loss at the hands of the New Brunswick Reds.

Still, the Huskies posted a 19-1 record to finish first in the standings. Despite their loss to the Reds in the regular season finale, the Huskies secured first-place in the standings by 14 points over New Brunswick.

The Huskies had a bye to the semifinals of the AUS Championship, where they would square off with the Cape Breton Capers. Saint Mary’s moved one step closer to an AUS title and a spot at Nationals with their 73-60 win.

With the win, the Huskies met the Dalhousie Tigers in the AUS Championship game. The contest presented an interesting scenario for both teams. Counting exhibition games, the Huskies and Tigers had met four previous times during the 2018-19 season. Saint Mary’s had three wins to their name, while the Tigers knocked off Saint Mary’s in the first exhibition game of the year back in October.

What makes things even more interesting is the fact that all four games were decided by six or fewer points.

In what was expected to be a close game, the Huskies found themselves behind after each quarter. Regardless of what the Huskies threw at them, the Tigers found a way to answer. In the end, Dalhousie made the Huskies’ hopes of making it back to Nationals even tougher by handing Saint Mary’s a 65-55 loss.

Despite the loss, the Huskies earned a Wild Card spot at the U Sports Final Eight by way of their strong regular season and Dalhousie hosting the National Championships. A 94-78 loss to the Calgary Dinos in the quarter-finals sent the Huskies to the Consolation Bracket. The Huskies would bounce back with an 84-67 win over the Concordia Stingers in the Consolation Semifinals, only to fall to the UBC Thunderbirds in the fifth-place game.

Looking ahead to the 2019-20 season, the Huskies will be looking to avenge last year’s loss in the AUS Championship game. A talented roster that features three double-digit scorers will be back to lead the way, but they will need to replace the reigning AUS MVP if they want to stay atop the standings.

Who’s Gone?

After last season, the Huskies graduated a pair of fifth-year student-athletes, one of which was the AUS MVP for the 2018-19 season. From both talent and experience perspectives, Head Coach Jonah Taussig and his staff will be in tough to replace the departures in 2019-20, and beyond.

Alleyne, Kemar
Replacing Kemar Alleyne, the reigning AUS MVP, won’t be an easy task for the Huskies this season. (Source: The Chronicle Herald)

Kemar Alleyne (Scarborough, Ont.) was named the 2018-19 AUS MVP after his standout senior season with the Huskies. He capped off his career at Saint Mary’s by finishing eighth in the league in scoring, averaging 14.6 points per contest, which also led the Huskies for the year. Over his 20 starts, he posted 15 games in double-figures. Alleyne had back-to-back games of 20+ points, both at the expense of the Cape Breton Capers, during the month of February.

Alleyne went for 28 points on February 2nd, and then followed that up a few days later with a 29-point showing against the Capers.

The Huskies also graduated Andre Ntivumbura (Orleans, Ont.) after the 2018-19 season. In a reserve role off the bench, Ntivumbura averaged 13.2 minutes per contest throughout the year. He posted 3.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game across 20 regular season appearances, one of which was a start.

In addition to their fifth-year players, the Huskies had four fourth-year players on last year’s roster. With their 2019-20 roster having yet to be confirmed, the Huskies could very well be without any combination of the four. Brett Martindale (Kingston, Ont.) started all 20 games last season, while both Nevell Provo (North Preston, NS), Will Fiander (Halifax, NS), and Tristan Arthurs (Vancouver, BC) brought depth to the roster off the bench.

Heading into the new season, the Huskies could potentially be without six names from last year’s team. With Alleyne and Ntivumbura gone for sure, the Huskies will turn to their strong returning class to step up their games and account for the production lost on both ends of the floor.

Who’s Back?

While losing a reigning MVP is never easy, Taussig and the Huskies return their share of talent, all of whom will be up to the task of avenging their loss in the AUS Championship game. Saint Mary’s returns three players from last season’s team who averaged at least 12.6 points per game, and they have a role player who could make the jump into the starting five this season.

Leading the way in terms of returnees is Nico Brauner (Hettenhain, Germany). The 6’2’’ guard started his 2018-19 season on fire on offense, posting four-straight games in double-figures to begin the year. Then, on January 24th against the Acadia Axemen, Brauner put together his best offensive game in a 103-93 win for the Huskies. On 10-of-18 shooting from the field, Brauner finished the night with 34 points to go along with five assists to guide Saint Mary’s to the 10-point win.

For the year, Brauner averaged 12.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game while shooting 39.0% from the field. He is tied as the team’s top returning scorer, and is their top returning rebounder from last season.

Despite coming off the bench all season, Johneil Johnson (Lake Echo, NS) established himself as one of the nation’s top scorers. Johnson saw the floor in 19 games last season, all of which came off the bench. In 203 minutes of floor time per night, Johnson averaged 12.9 points per game on 51.1% shooting from the field and 35.5% shooting from three-point range.

If you average his point-per-game production out for a full 40 minutes, he ranks second in the AUS with an average of 24.8 points per game. Not bad for a player who comes off the bench.

Rounding out the Huskies’ top three scorers back from last year is Nikita Kasongo (Chateauguay, Que.). Back in 2017-18, Kasongo was named the AUS Rookie of the Year, and he followed that up with another strong season in Year Two. Like Brauner, Kasongo started the season off on the right foot, posting a pair of 20-point games over the Huskies’ first four contests. He then closed the season with seven double-digit point performances over the last eight games for Saint Mary’s, bookending a strong overall year.

Kasongo averaged 12.6 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game while shooting 39.0% from the field.

One player who could turn some heads this year is Qyemah Gibson (Nassau, Bahamas). Last year, he averaged 10.7 minutes per contest in 20 regular season appearances off the bench. He posted 5.9 points and 2.5 rebounds per game, giving the Huskies significant contributions in limited playing time.

With the departure of Alleyne and Ntivumbura, Gibson could very well work his way into the starting five this season.

The Huskies have a talented roster assembled as they look to get back to the AUS Championship game and reverse their fortunes from last year’s loss to Dalhousie. They have added three recruits to the mix who they hope can step in and contribute right away.

Incoming Talent

In terms of incoming talent, the Huskies have added three new faces to the mix. One player brings with him a ton of experience from the ACAA with the Holland Hurricanes, while two first-year players will add depth up and down the roster in 2019-20.

Making the jump from Holland College and the ACAA to the Huskies is forward Travis Adams (Halifax, NS). Adams will bring a ton of size and strength to the front court for the Huskies, while also bringing a wealth of experience from his time with the Hurricanes. He helped guide the Hurricanes to a seventh-straight ACAA Championship a year ago, posting 17 points and 14 rebounds against the Mount Allison Mounties in the title game.

Also up front, the Huskies add forward Sebastian Gray (Nassau, Bahamas) to the rotation. The 6’6’’ forward brings his share of size to the mix, giving Coach Taussig another big body in the paint.

In the back court, Dontae Mitchell (Vaughan, Ont.) will make the move to the East Coast after playing his high school basketball at the Athlete Institute. The 6’4’’ guard/wing brings versatility to the lineup for the Huskies with his size and shooting ability in the back court.

The Huskies have addressed their losses with their incoming recruits. They have young players who will serve as bigger pieces of the puzzle as their careers progress, while they’ve added a forward with experience who can step in and compete right away.

The Huskies came oh-so-close to the AUS Championship last season, dropping just their second game of the year to Dalhousie. After last year’s tough loss, the Huskies will be back this season looking to avenge their loss and head back to Nationals on a winning note.

Replacing the reigning MVP is never an easy thing to do, but that’s the challenge that’s staring the Huskies in the face. Still, they return three double-digit scorers from last year’s team, and a player who could make a jump into the starting five after serving as a reliable role player in 2018-19.

Until someone says otherwise, the Huskies remain the team to beat in the AUS. There’s some stiff competition at the top with the likes of Dalhousie, Cape Breton, and New Brunswick all returning their share of talent. Saint Mary’s will be in tough all year long, but they have some extra motivation to get the job done.

Be sure to bookmark our 2019-20 Season Previews page to keep up with the previews as they are released online.

– T. Bennett

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