Mariam Sylla won RSEQ Player-of-the-Year honours, averaging 14 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. (Alexandra Allaire / McGill Tribune)

Basketball: Martlets finish fifth at nationals for second straight year

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The no. 4 nationally ranked McGill Martlets had a disappointing weekend at the CIS Final 8 tournament in Windsor, Ontario. Their dream of a medal at the National Championships was squashed in the quarter-finals with a 74-60 loss to the University of Fraser Valley (UFV) Cascades. However, McGill’s weekend did not end there, as they beat the no. 8 seeded Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks (WLU) and the no. 7 University of Alberta Pandas to capture fifth place in the tournament.

In their first game of the tournament against UFV, the Martlets started the game looking sloppy on offence. The team’s poor execution allowed UFV to go on an 8-0 run at the beginning of the game, forcing Marlet Head Coach Ryan Thorne to call a timeout at the five minute mark of the first quarter, with a score 13-3 in favour of the Cascades. The second quarter was not much better for the Martlets on the offensive end, leading to a 13-point deficit going into half time.

However, McGill looked noticeably different in the third frame with its strong defensive stops and movements of the ball leading to a resounding 28-13 run, and closed the gap to 59-57 midway in the final quarter. Yet the Martlets’ fledgling comeback came too late in the game, and the early deficit was too much to overcome; UFV held on to its 74-60 victory.

Mariam Sylla, the RSEQ Player-of-the-Year, tallied a team-high 17 points and 11 rebounds while senior forward Hélène Bibeau chipped in 16 points. The loss shifted McGill into the running for the consolation prize of fifth place in the tournament.

With minimal time to rest, the Martlets were back on the court to face WLU the next day. McGill was able to fend off the seventh-ranked team, with a 58-51 victory behind Sylla’s second double-double of the tournament. She scored 18 points and pulled down 14 boards in 34 minutes on the court. Bibeau also added in 15 points and 4 rebounds of her own in the contest. However, the Martlets connected on just 32.3 per cent of their shots from the floor, 5 of 19 from outside the arc, and below 50 per cent from the charity strike. The RSEQ champions pulled away from the Golden Hawks in the third frame with a quick run to finish the game with a 58-51 victory. The win set McGill up against the University of Alberta in a game to claim fifth place.

Sunday was the last day of the tournament, with the Martlets posting a dominant 14-point victory against Alberta. Once again, Sylla’s strong offensive game led the team, scoring 21 points and pulling down 7 rebounds. The win marked the last game for the Martlets this year, who will need to replace two fifth-year starters, Bibeau, and point guard Françoise Charest for next season.

“Every team wants to finish the season with a win, so we’re pleased with the result,” Head Coach Ryan Thorne said.

“We would have loved to have this performance in the first round, but I’m very proud the girls kept their heads up after a tough loss,” Thorne continued. “They showed a lot of character and showed what a proud basketball program we have at McGill.”

The McGill program has managed to achieve success in the RSEQ for the past couple of years, and must now find a way to reach major success at the national level.