Following a silver-medal finish at the CIS Championships last February, the goal for the McGill Martlet basketball team (1-0) was clear: Win the first National Championship in the program’s history. During their season opener on Friday night against the Laval Rouge et Or (0-1), the team seemed inconsistent. Playing a tight game throughout, the Martlets only managed to pull away in the fourth quarter, winning 69-60.
“[It was] our size inside, and that’s what we did, we banged it inside, got some opportunities, and then kicked out,” Head Coach Ryan Thorne said of the team’s success in the fourth quarter. “Our size allows us to make [the defence] collapse, and when they collapse, we just got to be ready to knock down shots, and we did.”
It was a slow start for the Martlets, who were able to take an early 21-17 advantage in the first quarter, but then lost their lead after a series of turnovers on poor entry passes in the second. Despite their sloppy play on offence, the Martlets were able to keep the score separated by one to two points throughout the second due to a stingy defence.
“We can be a little more aggressive,” Thorne said. “Today the overall set-up for Laval, [because] they’re all small, [was to] be a little more controlled rather than being aggressive.”
Junior centre Alex Kiss-Rusk was the ‘it factor’ throughout the second and third quarter, registering six blocks and scoring all 10 of her points. Kiss-Rusk, who previously played in the NCAA at Virginia Tech, is the tallest player on the team at 6’4.”
“It’s very rare to have someone of Alex’s height and ability here in Quebec,” Thorne said. “Usually they’re in the NCAA, so definitely we want to take advantage of that.”
Kiss-Rusk was automatic on the night, making 83 per cent of her shots and scoring 10 points for her team. She has shown considerable improvement in her three years with the Martlets.
“[Kiss-Rusk has been] getting more confident, a little more aggressive,” Thorne explained. “She knows she’s one of the biggest girls in the conference, so a lot of [things] are going to go through her […]I’ve definitely seen some improvement there.”
Kiss-Rusk, senior point guard Dianna Ros, and senior forward Mariam Sylla combined for 40 of McGill’s 69 points. Sylla finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, dominating throughout the game. For Laval, senior guard Gabrielle Girard carried the team, putting up 29 of their 60 points.
“[Girard] spent the summer really working on her game,” Thorne said. “She has improved. She’s playing at an All-Canadian level [….] For us [we] can live with one person going off and controlling the rest [of the team] as opposed to everyone doing a great job.”
McGill will head to Lennoxville to square off against the Bishop’s Gaiters (0-0) next Saturday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. as they continue their quest for post-season glory.
“I thought that was a great opportunity for us just to bond. I thought the ladies, especially the freshmen, got to know each other and I thought we got to play some great competition early in the season, which was awesome.” —Thorne on the team’s pre-season experience in Greece.
Moment of the game
The Martlets went on an eight-point run over two minutes early in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Rouge et Or
McGill’s bench had 21 more points that Laval’s.