The McGill Redmen men’s basketball team’s 67-65 loss to the Concordia Stingers on Saturday had it all: lead changes, mental lapses, great defence, and a dramatic game-winning shot.
After a dismal second quarter – in which the Redmen scored a measly two points – McGill slowly clawed their way back to lead by four in the final minutes. Concordia’s Evens Laroche, though, sealed McGill’s fate, burying a 15-foot jumper with 1.4 seconds left to play.
“We dug a hole in the second quarter,” said McGill Head Coach Craig Norman. “I told my guys, ‘You dig a hole like that, it’s hard to come out of.'”
The first quarter was uncharacteristically frenetic: McGill and Concordia appeared scattered and confused on offence, yet played strong, energetic defence. First-year Redmen point guard Olivier Bouchard – an impressive, undersized leader with bulldog-like intensity and grit – picked apart the Stingers’ full-court press, picking up three points and a steal in the first frame, while fourth-year Redmen guard Pawel Herra came off the bench to pot six points.
The Stingers, then, took charge, playing shutdown defence in the second quarter. The Redmen repeatedly turned the ball over, and committed needless fouls, while Concordia outscored McGill19-2 in the frame. Norman applauded the Stingers’ second-quarter performance, saying that “Concordia took over the game.”
“[Concordia] defended great – they were active, they were hedging on the ball screens,” Norman said.
But after halftime, the Redmen refocussed, defending well and attacking the lane. Bouchard, who scored another five points in the third frame, was again a vocal presence on the court and scored two key baskets down the stretch, reducing the Concordia lead to five points.
“Bouchard was tremendous,” Norman said. “He got us back in the game.”
With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Winn Clark, a first-year Redmen guard, hit a strong layup, putting McGill up by four. They were over the hump, Norman said: “I thought we were in good shape to win.”
But then Laroche, Concordia’s standout forward, came alive. After Herra put McGill up by two with 45 seconds left, Laroche worked the post, nabbing a quick basket. The Redmen then turned the ball over on their next possession, and, with no timeouts remaining, the ball ended up in Laroche’s hands.
“We wanted him to get the ball,” said Concordia Head Coach John Dore.
With 10 seconds left, Concordia cleared the lane for Laroche. He faked right, blowing past his defender before exploding straight upwards, and releasing a beautiful 15-foot jumper that silenced the near-capacity crowd at Love Competition Hall.
“We showed a lot of character to come back and win the game,” Dore said. “We set a couple of things up in the end, it worked, and Evens scored four points down the stretch – everything went according to plan. If only it could always work that way.”
Norman acknowledged that his team was fatigued mentally, but “not physically,” adding that four of McGill’s last five games have come down to the last possession.
“You’re not going to win all those close games,” he said. “There are some lessons to be learned from the loss. … We’re going to have to watch some film. We have Concordia next week – we just have to go to war and battle on.”
The loss snapped the Redmen’s three-game winning streak, nudging them a game below .500. On Friday, the Redmen dispatched Bishop’s 81-78 – Herra led the charge with 22 points off the bench. Their next game is away against Concordia on February 5.