Slow start dooms Redmen as Gaiters grind out hard-fought win

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Whatever high spirits surrounded the McGill men’s basketball team as they took the court for their first conference game of the new year evaporated with the sound of the final horn on Wednesday night, as the Redmen dropped a heartbreaking 62-61 decision to the visiting Bishop’s Gaiters. After two consecutive home wins against conference opponents in December, and an impressive comeback victory against Brock University at the UQAM Holiday Hoops Classic, a match-up with last-placed Bishop’s gave McGill an excellent opportunity to keep on rolling. But a bad start and a questionable call at the end of the game ultimately sunk the Redmen, who fell to 2-4 in conference play.

“We lost the game in the first half and we paid a heavy price,” said Head Coach Craig Norman. “We’re a better basketball team than [Bishop’s] and we did not play well in the first half.”

In the last meeting between the two teams, the outcome of the game was never in doubt, as the Redmen cruised to a 102-88 victory. However, McGill’s lackluster start to the game foreshadowed a very different result on Wednesday night.

Bishop’s jumped out to an 8-0 lead before the fans packed into Love Competition Hall even had chance to get comfortable. A combination of missed shots, turnovers, and all-around sloppy play by McGill allowed the Gaiters to run their lead up to 23-13 at the end of the first quarter. McGill clawed back in the subsequent stanzas – thanks in large part to the play of senior guard Matthew Thornhill – but the team’s efforts were ultimately in vain. Down 62-61, the Redmen had a good opportunity to steal the win the closing moments of the game, but freshman point guard Olivier Bouchard was called for a carry with 1.9 seconds left.

“I thought it was a tough call down the stretch,” said Norman. “I think it would have been nice if the kids had been allowed to decide that game.”

Despite his frustrations with the last-second officiating, though, Norman was quick to recognize that responsibility for the loss could not be placed solely on the shoulders of the referees.

“We put ourselves in that position,” he said. “I don’t think we should have ever been in that position.”

Bishop’s towering interior defence forced McGill into a wholly perimeter-oriented game, and the Redmen were unable to capitalize from long range, shooting a horrid 27.3 per cent for the match. Thornhill, who finished with 18 points while wearing a protective face mask, hit the majority of his shots from downtown, but was frustrated with the team’s inability to attack the basket.

“We’ve been shooting the ball pretty well, but we didn’t shoot well in this game and that kind of hurt us,” he said. “We should have taken the ball inside a bit more.”

McGill stormed back from their early deficit to capture an eight point lead towards the end of the third quarter, with back-to-back threes from Thornhill and senior guard Pawel Herra capping a 15-2 run by the Redmen to set up an exciting fourth quarter of play. Norman received strong contributions from his young players, as Bouchard and fellow freshman forward Nic Langley chipped in with 10 and eight points, respectively.

Langley hit a huge three to put the Redmen up 61-60 late, before poor rebounding and transition defense allowed Bishops to score the eventual game-winner. After the game, Langley stressed the importance of rebounding in order for McGill to have success.

“They beat us on the glass the whole night,” he said. “They out-rebounded us. Otherwise we would have had that game. We need to toughen up. We needed this win.”

Bishop’s fared only marginally better than McGill from the field, connecting on just 36.1 per cent of their shots. However, the visitors registered the final blow with just less than two minutes left in the game on an elbow jumper from senior forward Hermon Tesfaghebriel. The win was Bishop’s first away from Lennoxville this season.

At 2-4 the Redmen are now tied with Bishop’s and Concordia for last place in the QSSF, and a home-and-home with first-placed and undefeated Laval looms large. The Redmen take on the Rouge-et-Or on January 15 at 8 p.m.