Fans greet Alexandar Mitrovic after his last regular season game as a Redmen. (Remi Lu / McGill Tribune)
Fans greet Alexandar Mitrovic after his last regular season game as a Redmen. (Remi Lu / McGill Tribune)

Staying at home: McGill clinches first in conference

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When Dave DeAveiro took over as McGill Redmen head coaching position in 2010, the program was in a bit of a rut. The Redmen couldn’t match up with division foes like Concordia, Laval, or UQAM, all of whom regarded McGill as an easy victory on the schedule. DeAveiro was determined to turn things around. With solid recruiting, a team-first environment, and immense player development, the Redmen have reached prominence once again. On Thursday night at Love Competition Hall, McGill clinched their first regular season RSEQ title since 2001 by defeating the Laval Rouge-et-Or 71-70 in a game that showcased exactly how far the program has come.

Remi Lu / McGill Tribune
Remi Lu / McGill Tribune

The game quickly became a defensive struggle, as both teams traded ugly perimeter-oriented possessions. As a result, each team made fewer than 40 per cent of their field goals in the first quarter. McGill held a slim two-point lead heading into the second—thanks in large part to their defence—dropping seven points off of turnovers.

The Redmen have prided themselves on defence all season, something that DeAveiro has cited as crucial for success.

“We are one of the best teams in the country, defensively. Usually, that gives you a chance to be successful [in any game],” he said.

McGill found success against Laval’s defence during the first five minutes of the second quarter as the Redmen built a nine-point lead after generating a structured inside-out balance. However, McGill fell apart down the latter stretch of the frame, as the Rouge-et-Or duo of Karl Demers-Belanger and Boris Hadzimuratovic bullied the Redmen in the paint, en route to a 17-2 Laval run to close the quarter.

With the stakes higher than ever, it was clear the Redmen were a bit tentative. Perhaps they were shying away from their big opportunity. DeAveiro disagreed and credited the last-placed Rouge-et-Or.

“Laval’s record is deceiving. They are a young, talented team, [and] aggressive defensively,” he said. “At this time of year, it is important for us to block out distractions [like the se expectations].”

The Redmen settled down after the break, and caught fire offensively. Second-year duo Vincent Dufort and Te’Jour Riley each stepped up—something they’ve been doing all season—and combined for 19 of McGill’s 25 points in the quarter. Riley finished with a team-high 15 points, while Dufort chipped in with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Remi Lu / McGill Tribune
Remi Lu / McGill Tribune

McGill was tested in the game’s final quarter, however, as Laval nipped at the Redmen lead. After closing McGill’s advantage to a mere two points, they finally overcame the deficit with just over three minutes remaining, after a strong post move by Antoine Beaumier. Beaumier was dominant all game, finishing with 19 points and seven rebounds. The Redmen answered right back, as Adrian Hynes-Guery nailed a jumper to regain the lead. With a chance to seal the game, the usually reliable Christian McCue missed two free throws, giving Laval a chance for one last possession. However, the trademark Redmen defence stepped up and forced Laval’s Ryan Hugues into a difficult three-point shot. McGill collected the rebound to secure the win and the RSEQ title.

The result wasn’t surprising to anyone who’s followed the team this season. This group of Redmen is different than years past. They are a mentally tough bunch, who know how to handle adversity.

“I believe the team has shown resiliency. With all our injuries throughout the year, our team really proved that we are a team, and [it’s] not just about one or two players,” DeAveiro said. “Our players are [now] a year older. They are maturing and as a result, so is our team.”

Despite the excitement surrounding the regular season championship, the Redmen are far from finished. They battle UQAM on Wednesday in the RSEQ semifinal. DeAveiro kept it simple when he explained what improvements need to be made heading into the postseason.

“[There are] always things to work on. [Specifically,] we need to shore up our rebounding and decision making,” he said.

With only one guaranteed RSEQ berth available for the CIS basketball championship, there’s nothing guaranteed for the Redmen. However, what is guaranteed is that they won’t be fazed by anything they encounter—a marker that the program is finally back on its feet.