The Calgary Surge clinched a spot in Championship Weekend with a 84-68 win over the Edmonton Stingers at the WinSport Centre on Sunday evening.
Stef Smith led the charge with a game-high 21 points, and knocked down the game-winning free throw in target score time to give the Surge a berth in the CEBL’s final four in their inaugural season in Calgary.
“It feels great, a lot of time, effort, blood, sweat and tears went into this,” Smith said after the game. “It was a good team win and I’m looking forward to [Championship Weekend].”
The game-winner also marked the third time this season that Smith sealed a victory over the Stingers from the free throw line, as the hit a pair of free throws to defeat Edmonton on back-to-back nights in May to begin the season.
Tonight, the Ajax, Ontario native shot 7-8 from the free throw line and added seven assists. His backcourt mate, Sean Miller Moore, chipped in with a 17-point, 12 rebound double-double in the western conference semi-final win.
“It’s just a matter of practice, reps in the gym, and at the free throw line,” Smith said of his game-winner. “I’m gonna have to do an extra 50 or 100 tomorrow for missing the first one [with a chance to end the game].”
The Surge and Stingers entered tonight with the top two defences in the league, averaging 81.6 and 83 points against per game respectively. But it was the Surge who dialed up the defensive intensity from the jump and imposed their physicality on the way to earning their spot in Championship Weekend.
As a team, Calgary converted 19 Edmonton turnovers to 27 points, and held the Stingers to zero points on the fast break. That mark came one game after the Stingers used 32 points in transition to earn a victory in the play-in round on Friday against the Winnipeg Sea Bears.
While the Stingers narrowly lost the rebound battle (46-44) and hauled in more offensive boards than Calgary, the Surge—without Simi Shittu—outscored Edmonton 50-34 in the paint.
“We knew coming in that Calgary was a physical team, they want to get to the paint, they want to impose their will on you from a physical standpoint,” Edmonton head coach Jordan Baker said. “They’ve done a great job of doing that all year long.”
Brody Clarke had a team-high 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three threes for Edmonton, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome a 19-point halftime deficit. Isiah Osborne added 13 points and two triples in the starting lineup.
“Our achilles heel, one of them, is the fact that when teams got physical with us we were a little smaller and not as big, strong, and athletic as the other teams,” Clarke said. “We had a lot of young guys who stepped into bigger roles, they came with fight, [but] we didn’t step up to the challenge and were getting bullied.”
Although Edmonton knocked down a pair of threes to start the game, both teams struggled to find their groove offensively. The Surge, who last played on July 28, started three of 10 from the field. Edmonton, meanwhile, shot two for eight in the first half of the opening quarter.
Mason Bourcier, however, lit a spark for the Surge off the bench. The Kelowna, B.C. product nailed a three, stole the inbound pass a few possessions later, and dropped a dime to Terry Henderson Jr. to start a Calgary run. Bourcier finished with five points, six assists and four steals—three of which came in the opening frame.
Calgary used a 12-4 run in the final two and a half minutes to take an eight-point lead after one.
The Surge then extended their lead to double digits in the second. The Stingers tried to cut into the margin with a pair of backdoor cuts on back-to-back possessions, but Edmonton still struggled to get shots to drop—shooting 30 per cent from the field in the first two quarters.
Calgary shot close to 50 per cent in the first half and took a 48-29 lead after two.
After the break, Edmonton started to mount a comeback, drawing a pair of offensive fouls and using a 7-0 run to crawl back into the game. Smith ended the run with a eurostep layup at the hoop, but an Osborne tip-in following his own miss capped off a 6-0 Stinger run that made it a 12-point game.
In the fourth, Clarke dropped a three to bring the Stingers within 10 points, but like they did all night, the Surge immediately responded—scoring six straight points on their way to taking a 15-point lead into target score.
After Jordy Tshimanga began target score with an alley-oop, Smith ended the game by drilling his second of two free throws at the line to send the Surge to Vancouver.
“The Calgary fans are amazing,” Smith said. “It’s the inaugural season and the support is just amazing... We just got to thank them, this is their win.”
The win, which marks Calgary’s fifth in a row, sets up a date with the Bandits in the western conference final on August 11. Tipoff is slated for 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 local at the Langley Events Centre.