McGill Redmen crowned Quebec champs for third time in four years
Vincent Dufort of Smiths Falls, Ont, led McGill with 21 points as the top-seeded Redmen captured their third Quebec championship in four years with a 78-67 victory over visiting UQAM, Saturday, at the RSEQ Final Four tournament, presented by Milk 2 Go Sport.
The game was declared a sell-out 15 minutes before tip-off -- a first in the storied school's history of athletics -- and a crowd of 848 attended the event at Love Competition Hall, setting a single-game, home-court record for McGill basketball.
The Redmen not only claimed the provincial banner but also qualified for the CIS Final Eight national championship, which will take place in Vancouver, B.C., March 17-20. They mimicked the Martlets, who had captured the conference title earlier in the day with a 71-56 win over Laval. It marked the third time in four years that McGill swept both the Quebec men's and women's titles after having never achieved the feat.
Dufort, who merited player-of-the-game honours for McGill, shot 7-for-13 from the floor, including 1-for-3 from three-point range, and sank six of eight free-throw attempts. The fifth-year physical education senior pulled down eight rebounds, to go with a game-high six assists and a pair of steals.
"I can't describe it, it feels amazing," said the 6-foot-4 shooting guard who is the RSEQ conference nominee for the CIS Ken Shields Award for combining academics and community service. "It's just an amazing bunch of guys and it's so awesome to be able to win it for them and for 'Coach'. He does so much for our team, it's awesome to leave on a good note for him.
"I just decided there was no way I was going out losing in my home gym. That's it. I just wasn't going to accept losing in front of that home crowd. I think sometimes when the team starts off a little bit slow, maybe they need somebody to look to to pick it up for them and then they can feed off that. I was trying to be a bit more aggressive and take something on my shoulders, so then maybe they can follow after that."
Head coach David DeAveiro had plenty of praise for his team captain. "I wanted to get Vinny off the floor," he offered, explaining why Dufort was subbed out as the clock ran down. "I wanted everyone to recognize him and what he's done for our program for five years. He deserved that ovation from the crowd."
Three other Redmen also reached double figures in scoring. Dele Ogundokun of Hamilton, Ont., scored 15 points, nabbed five rebounds, had four assists and a pair of steals. He shot 4-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, and netted four of six free-throws. Michael Peterkin of Toronto grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and added 11 points. He was 5-for-8 from the floor, 1-for-3 from the line, and was credited with one assist and a steal.
Jenning Leung, a 6-foot-1 guard from the Philippines, scored 13 points and pulled down five rebounds. He shot 5-for-16 from the floor, sank three of nine treys, had three assists and two steals.
"(Jenning and I) had a conversation today and I told him just to go home and visualize making shots today," revealed DeAveiro. "He's been struggling a lot, I think putting way too much pressure on himself, so I just told him to go home and relax and visualize himself making big shots, being the point-guard and leading his team to a championship, and he came through today."
The Citadins led 18-13 after the first quarter, but the Redmen picked it up in the second and took a 38-33 advantage into the half. They maintained a 56-52 edge after three before outscoring their guests 22-15 in the final frame.
"We got off to a pretty good start," said UQAM first-year head coach Nate Philippe, who guided the team to third place and a berth in post-season play for the first time in three years. "One of the things than McGill does extremely well is rebound the ball offensively and that's when they started getting into a rhythm. There was a period where they got four or five offensive rebounds in a row in a three-minute spurt. A couple times we secured defensive rebounds and they deflected it out of our hands… When you give a very good team that many second opportunities, it's very tough."
UQAM player of the game Kewyn Blain, who hails from nearby St. Leonard, Que., led his side with 24 points and collected six rebounds. He was followed by Yassin Debache of Tunisia with 14 points and a half-dozen rebounds, andGreishe Clerjuste of Montreal, who registered 13 points and a team-high seven rebounds.
"That was very good team, a well-coached team," said DeAveiro, who was named earlier in the week as the conference nominee for the Stuart Aberdeen Memorial Trophy as CIS coach of the year. "Nate's done an amazing job with his team. We knew we'd have a tough time controlling their guards because they're so good, they can score in so many ways. We had to change our defence up a couple times and give them a few different looks, and then we just started making shots again. That kind of changed the complexion of the game, and Noah Daoust in there was blocking some shots and keeping Kewyn from getting to the rim, so I thought that made a big difference."
"Credit goes to McGill and to David DeAveiro," added Philippe. "It's a phenomenal program, and I'm rooting for them at nationals -- they're going to represent the league well."
DeAveiro -- whose players doused him with a rare ice-bucket shower in celebration on the hardwood floor -- deflected praise to his staff.
"You win these coach of the year awards," he said, "But people behind the scenes -- your assistant coaches, your managers, your therapists -- they never get enough credit. Without them, we don't have the success and I don't have the success. I can't tell you how hard my staff works. They're amazing, we wouldn't be here without them. They deserve a lot of credit and they don't get it."
McGill had a 38-31 rebounding advantage and a 6-1 margin in blocks, while the Citadins held a 9-7 edge in steals. Both teams committed 16 turnovers.
The Redmen shot 43.1 per cent from the floor (28/65) and 9-for-24 from the three-point range. They went 13-for-21 from the free-throw line. UQAM shot 33.9 per cent (20/59), made five of 19 from beyond the arc and sank 22 of 25 opportunities from the stripe.
As conference champions, McGill is expected to be seeded among the top four teams when the seedings are announced Sunday for next week's CIS Final Eight championship at the UBC Doug Mitchell Sports Centre.
"When you get to the Nationals you're playing against the best teams in the country," noted DeAveiro with an eye towards the CIS tournament. "What we're going to do is get ready and prepare our team. I think our team believes that they belong in that championship and can play with the (other top) teams in the country. I think we proved that early in our preseason (schedule)."
"It's going to take an entire team effort," added Dufort. "I think we have the talent to do it. If everyone comes together, we play hard on defence and we trust each other, I think we can come home with it."
REDMEN RAP: Combined with a separate gate of 657 in the women's championship game played earlier in the day, the two Quebec finals drew a combined 1,505 hoops fans, a single-day school record for McGill. The three-day tourney, drew 3,458 fans to the facility which has an official seating capacity of 848.