By Earl Zukerman
Sophomore Nathan Joyal of St. Lazare, Que., came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points, including five treys, as the McGill’s men’s basketball team rallied from an early 10-point deficit to defeat Victoria 80-68 and finish fifth overall at the CIS Final Eight championship in Scotiabank Place, Sunday.
Carleton won their ninth national title in 11 years with a resounding 92-42 victory over Lakehead. In the bronze-medal affair, Ottawa defeated Acadia 92-85.
It was McGill’s inaugural win in three lifetime meetings against the Vikes and marked the first time in school history that the Redmen hoopsters had collected a pair of victories at the Nationals as the team improved to 3-7 in four appearances.
McGill had one of their best shooting performances of the season, connecting on 44.1 per cent from the field (30/68) and a sizzling 41.4 from the three-point arc, making a season-high 12 treys on 29 attempts.
“They had that really talented big man, No. 12 (Chris McLaughlin) and he didn’t like to come out on us, so we were able to get threes that way,” said Joyal, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward who was named as McGill’s player of the game after going 7-for-12 in field-goal shooting, including a 5-for-9 effort from three-point range. “But we also executed our offence exceptionally today, probably the best over the tournament and that really helped us get our threes in rhythm and we were able to knock them (down).
“Playing in an arena this large, your voice tends to get lost, so you have to know where your teammates are going to be, based upon what set (play) you’re running because you can’t necessarily hear someone calling to say that they’re open. I feel like that’s something we did really well today, that we were just able to know where guys were going to be… It was a big battle and I think we learned a lot from it.”
The Redmen also shot a stellar 88.9 per cent from the free-throw line, making eight of nine attempts. Victoria shot 47.4 from the floor (27/57) and 35.3 from the arc (6/17) but only made eight of 16 from the charity stripe.
“We watched some video and thought we’d be able to get some offence from (three-point range) and that was part of the action that we looking for, a pick ‘n pop and getting our post players to shoot the ball a little bit,” explained McGill head coach David DeAveiro. “I thought we really did a good job of running our offence and finding those situations, so that was part of what we were trying to do today.”
The Vikes took an early 20-10 lead with 1:25 remaining in the first quarter but DeAveiro called a time-out, dished out some tough love and his troops responded. Each side then made three substitutions before play resumed and the tide turned with the Redmen outscoring Victoria by a whopping 70-40 margin the rest of the way. McGill finally caught up by halftime up to even the tally at 41-41, then outscored the Vikes by three in the third stanza and waltzed through the final quarter with a 21-12 margin.
“Victoria is a pretty good team and they run their offence really well, probably like few teams do in the country and our kids were not ready for that,” added DeAveiro, who improved to 7-5 lifetime at the CIS tourney, including a 4-1 mark against Canada West teams. “So we had to call a quick timeout to get focused and readjusted. We still struggled in the first half, defending. But I thought we did a better job in the second half after making a few adjustments at halftime.”
DeAveiro also made good use of his depth off the bench, which outscored the Vikes subs by a 30-19 margin. Five Redmen reached double figures, including point-guard Adrian Hynes-Guery, who tallied 16 points to go along with four rebounds, four steals and five assists. Simon Bibeau added 11 points, while Te’Jour Riley and Vincent Dufort had 10 apiece.
“It was a very big win, important for the program,” said Dufort, a sophomore from nearby Smiths Falls, Ont., who led the team in scoring (47) and rebounding (23) over the three games and won the tourney’s Robert Pugh Award as the most sportsmanlike player. “We try to just take what the offence gives us. Today they really packed the key a lot and took away the inside. But we’ve got some good (outside shooters) and (Victoria) gave us the (opportunity to shoot) threes and we punished them with that. So we took what they gave us and hurt them any way we could.”
McLaughlin, who was selected Victoria’s player of the game, led the Vikes with 16 points, while teammates Terrell Evans and Kyle Peterson added 10 apiece.
McGill, which finished atop the RSEQ standings, won the conference title for the first time since 1986 and returned to the Nationals after a 33-year absence, ended up with their second-highest single-season win total in school history. They posted a 24-10 record overall (23-8 against CIS teams), falling four victories shy of the 1976-77 Redmen squad which set a benchmark of 28-5.
“People now know that we’re going to be in the mix in terms of (high-level) basketball in this country,” noted DeAveiro, who has guided the team to a 52-36 mark against CIS opponents over his three seasons. “That’s definitely going to help our recruiting in terms of kids wanting to come play for McGill and seeing that they can get the best out of both worlds… academics and athletics.”
The future is indeed bright as the team expects to lose only two players to graduation, including team captain Winn Clark and Aleksandar Mitrovic, a second-year transfer out of the NCAA who has completed his eligibility and is finishing a master’s degree in teaching and learning. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound native of Belgrade scored 19 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in the tournament.
“I was pretty excited coming into this game,” said Clark, a chemistry and economics senior from Mission Hills, Kansas, who was the team’s fourth-leading scorer (33) and second-leading rebounder (19) in the tourney. “It was a chance to win two games at Nationals, which is hard to do, end our season… and my career on a win. I’m definitely happy but coming into the game, I was a little bit sad but excited to play one (last) time.”
Next year’s CIS championship will also be held in Ottawa.