You would think three consecutive RSEQ Championships would be pretty satisfying, but 12th year Head Coach Ryan Thorne—whose conference record is now 51-14—and the McGill Martlets (1-0) have bigger ambitions.
“We’re trying to win [the CIS Championship],” Thorne said. “We have been conference champions for the last three years and I think it is time for us to take that next step. That is our goal.”
McGill’s impressive 67-39 win over the Bishop’s Gaiters (0-1) clearly expressed this drive. Apart from a patchy first quarter, which the Gaiters led 13-7, the Martlets dominated all aspects of the season opener.
“I am happy with the end result,” Thorne said. “I was happy with the way we played the second half [but…] I was not happy with how we played [in the beginning.]”
The subpar performance in the first half could be chalked up to nerves and the eagerness to start the season on a strong footing. Forward Jennifer Silver, who had 14 points, four rebounds, five assists, and three steals, clearly relished the emotional atmosphere of the home opener.
“It was great,” Silver said. “It was our first game so there was a lot of pressure, but I think we did really well as a team [….] We started off shaky […] but we came together. It was really fun by the end.”
McGill adjusted in the second quarter. The Martlets took advantage of their height and energy to orchestrate a 17-2 run. The team moved the ball excellently to create unique angles of attack. McGill was 5-15 from the three-point line on the night, and also fed their post players. Forward Mariam Sylla, who had 11 points, and centre Alex Kiss-Rusk, who contributed nine points, saw plenty of touches.
This represents a change in strategy from last season, as McGill now boasts one of the tallest teams in the CIS. While the Martlets may have seven veterans returning form last year, this is an exciting new look for the team.
“We have a […] different makeup [compared to last year,]” Thorne said. “We are bigger than we have ever been. We are trying to focus and […] play inside-out a lot more, as opposed to being guard-oriented.”
Silver is clearly satisfied with the balance between the perimeter players and the dominance in the paint.
“We have good guards and good bigs,” Silver said. “We have solid advantages everywhere.”
In the second half, McGill demonstrated why they are the no. 4 team in the nation, using a full court press to force turnovers, and moving the ball intelligently to draw fouls in the paint. McGill was 14-24 from the free throw line in comparison to Bishop’s 7-9.
McGill’s defensive dominance was one of the strongest aspects of the team’s performance. The Martlets out-rebounded the Gaiters 40-29, held a 14-12 advantage in steals, and won the turnover battle 38-24. Coach Thorne was clear in expressing his hope for the Martlet squad to have a strong defensive identity.
“We want to be that team that others recognize [as being] tough to play against […] because when we defend, we work [relentlessly,]” Thorne said. “We […] try to prevent the penetration and then work together to make sure [there] is not an easy shot.”
McGill has all the pieces to dominate this year. The Martlets have the ability to play balanced basketball, and a winning formula that may ultimately help them fulfill their championship ambitions. They’ll continue their long journey to the CIS Championships next Thursday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. at UQÀM (0-0).