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Jenning Leung backs down a Laval defender. (Daniel Mortimer / McGill Tribune)

Basketball: Redmen come away from CIS Nationals empty-handed, despite excellent season

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The McGill Redmen basketball team suffered two heartbreaking losses at the CIS National Championships in Vancouver; the Redmen gave up a lead in the final minute to lose the quarter-final game 72-69 against finalist Calgary Dinos on Thursday, and then lost the consolation semifinal game 69-68 against the UBC Thunderbirds.

The two tightly contested defeats capped an excellent Redmen season that saw the team go 12-4 in the RSEQ regular season, and storm to an RSEQ title. McGill played with remarkable flexibility all season: They had one of the strongest benches in the country, were dominant rebounders, and were the best fourth-quarter team in the RSEQ.

On Thursday, McGill went up 69-66 courtesy of junior guard Dele Ogundokun’s three-pointer with a minute left. Calgary responded with three big plays, hitting a layup with 46 seconds to go, drawing a foul with 26 seconds to go, and then making a steal with 10 seconds left on the clock, ultimately sealing the game.

“We came here to win the title this year, we didn’t come to play for fifth or sixth, we came here to win,” Coach Dave DeAveiro explained, per McGill Athletics. “To not execute down the stretch is extremely frustrating[….] We can’t help Calgary win games, and I thought tonight we helped Calgary win this game.”

It was back and forth the entire game. McGill led the first quarter 19-15, but trailed by two points at the half. McGill and Calgary were constantly trading leads, taking it to the wire and providing riveting entertainment for the 1,250-strong crowd.

Ogundokun stood out for the Redmen with 19 points on 8-14 shooting, and added four assists. Junior point guard Jenning Leung connected on 5-10 from the three point line to add 15 points for the Redmen, as well as recording five steals. Both players were key for the Redmen all season: Leung’s three-point shooting and ball handling contributed to McGill’s dynamic offence, and Ogundokun’s defensive play on the perimeter and on the boards was a cornerstone of McGill’s defensive dominance.

Against UBC on Friday, McGill dug itself out of a 16 point halftime deficit, only to lose in excruciating fashion 69-68. Ogundokun and Leung starred once again with 15 points apiece. Junior guard Michael Peterkin also contributed 10 rebounds off the bench in a spirited performance. McGill, however, was always playing from behind. The Redmen only led once in the entire game, with a minute and a half left on the clock. The comeback, however, was encouraging and indicative of their mental strength. Redmen Head Coach Dave DeAveiro also used the game as an opportunity to play younger players, and other players who did not see much game time during the regular season.

McGill maintained its rebounding advantage against UBC, and also won the turnover battle 25-17. McGill, however, only shot 35 per cent. from the field in comparison to UBC’s 49 per cent.

The Redmen may have come away from the weekend empty-handed, but they demonstrated all the qualities that will make them an RSEQ and CIS powerhouse in years to come: Excellent, dogged rebounding, accurate three point shooting, and incredible temperament in the fourth quarter. Senior guard Vincent Dufort played his final game as well as guard Tychon Carter-Newman. 

McGill is in a good place, having exhibited consistent RSEQ success. On a national scale, a deep CIS run is required to vindicate the program’s talented foundation.

“We were pretty good this year,” DeAveiro said, per McGill Athletics. “I think we’re getting closer. We played against two very good teams [….] I was proud of what we’re doing and I expect us to be competing for a provincial championship next year and back at Nationals in Halifax.”

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