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(Mayaz Alam / McGill Tribune)

Basketball: RSEQ Champion Martlets place fourth at CIS Nationals

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The 2016 RSEQ champion McGill Martlets traveled to the CIS Final 8 at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, New Brunswick as the No. 1 seed. It was their fifth straight RSEQ championship, only the first time that McGill has entered Nationals as the first seed. Last year the Martlets progressed to the final game, but lost in the finals in a tight game to the Windsor Lancers, who won their fifth straight title. This year, McGill went into the tournament last Thursday with a 22-2 overall record against CIS opponents this season. They also had the best defensive record of any team–allowing an average of only 50.7 points per game, and riding a 15-game win streak.

“[We’d] had a target on our back all year so [we were] familiar with the pressure of being a top-ranked team,” veteran Head Coach Ryan Thorne, who is in his 13th year at the helm, said.

The Martlets’ first outing of the weekend came in the quarterfinal against the eighth-seeded hosts UNB. The Martlets came out firing, scoring 20 points in the first quarter with seniors Mariam Sylla and Dianna Ros and junior Alex Kiss-Rusk leading the way, scoring 12, 11, and 10 points apiece for the night. McGill let the home team come back a bit in the second half, but comfortably won 58-52 to progress to the semifinal against the Ryerson Rams.

Thorne, won was named the 2016 CIS Coach-of-the-Year, praised his co-captain Ros’ influence on the players around them.

“That’s veteran leadership out there, that’s maturity,” Thorne said. “There were some key decisions that changed the momentum of the game and that’s why you need her out there in crunch time.”

Saturday’s semifinal against fifth-seeded Ryerson, who were the highest scoring team in the country this year, proved to be a harder challenge for McGill. The Rams’ offence came out strong, outscoring the Martlets 45-28 in the first half for the Martlets’ largest deficit of the season.

“We lost it in the first half,” Thorne said. “We weren’t focused and disciplined and they took advantage of that, creating turnovers and getting transition baskets.”

The Martlets were unable to find an answer in the second half, trailing by 20 at the end of the third quarter and finishing the game down by 15 with a score of 87-72. Ryerson had three players with over 15 points, while junior forward Jennifer Silver’s 21 points led McGill’s losing effort.

“I’m disappointed,” Silver said. “We didn’t do the little things that we talked about pre-game, we didn’t execute the gameplan and we got hurt on the things we were trying to avoid.”

McGill entered the bronze-medal game against the No. 3 seed Saint Mary’s Huskies without Sylla, who succumbed to a knee injury the night before against Ryerson. Kiss-Rusk put up her ninth double-double of the season–scoring 16 points and registering 11 boards–but it wasn’t enough to make up for McGill’s offensive difficulties. The Martlets fell 56-43, their lowest offensive output in four years. Coach Thorne summed up the team’s sentiment after the loss.

“Disappointed, I think that’s the one word,” Thorne said. “We didn’t play well at all through this whole tournament, and having our best player out really showed today. For a team that battled and worked so hard all season long it’s unfortunate, the outcome, but you have to look across the board: Players and coaches, we all could have done better.”

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