Tiye Traore elevates to pull down the rebound (L-A Benoit / McGill Tribune)

Sylla reaches milestone in lopsided win over Gaiters

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McGill Martlets

Bishop’s Gaiters

Coming off a narrow defeat at the hands of No.1-ranked Windsor over the break, the McGill Martlets (6-0) reasserted their place atop the RSEQ Conference, blowing out the Bishop’s Gaiters (0-6) 85-30 at home Thursday night. The Martlets were led by Mariam Sylla, who recorded her usual double-double in just 17 minutes. Sylla also scored her 500th career regular-season point late in the fourth quarter after being subbed back into the game in response to “We want Sylla” chants from the spirited crowd.

“She’s an All-Canadian; she’s our best player,” Martlet Head Coach Ryan Thorne said. “If we’re going to do well, it’s going to go through her. As long as she’s productive and high energy, I think we’ll be successful.”

McGill started out strong, outscoring the Gaiters 23-6 in the first frame and dominating the smaller Bishop’s squad on both ends of the court. While there was no shortage of firepower on offence for the Martlets, with a stellar shooting performance from veteran point guard Dianna Ros and the unstoppable combination of Sylla and third-year centre Alex Kiss-Rusk in the post, Thorne maintained that the game plan will continue to revolve around high-intensity defence and rebounding, which lead to steals and fast-break opportunities.

“We’ve got one of the biggest front courts in the conference and we measure up with anyone in the country, so those are the kind of things we expect,” Thorne said. “Once again, coming off the break, those are things we tried to focus on—we have to get better on the boards, box out better—make sure that if we have an advantage there, we have to capitalize on that.”

Thorne’s players are obviously buying into the philosophy, as McGill outrebounded Bishop’s 52-25 and allowed their fewest point total all season while also shattering their own season-high point total of 73. Bishop’s point total didn’t break the double-digit mark until the waning minutes of the first half. Sylla and Kiss-Rusk bruised opposing bigs Danielle Lumley and Naomie Zitt-James under the rim, pulling down a combined 11 offensive boards and extending McGill’s possessions to the point where the shot clock should’ve been unplugged to save energy.

Leading 39-14 at the half, Thorne turned the game over to his bench, and was immediately rewarded as the Martlet reserves outscored the Bishop’s subs by 30 points on the night, shooting 44 per cent from the field.

“We […] played a lot of people today,” Thorne said. “So maybe that’s something I’ve got to learn from, and get more people out there and have more confidence because we can all score.”

Rookie wing Stephanie Blais impressed with a game-high 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting, and sophomore forward Jenn Silver added seven of her own, going 5-for-6 on free throws. In her second year on the team, Silver has shown promising flashes this season, adding an aggressive drive to her game while also getting to the line more frequently.

While the sure-handed Dianna Ros remains the team’s primary ball-handler, Coach Thorne gave 5’3” backup guard Caren-Carissa Tapia a shot to close out the lopsided affair. She made the most of it, scoring five points and dishing out three assists without turning the ball over in her 14 minutes of action.

“This is that return on [her] investment—what [she] does every day in practice that allows [her] to come out in the game and showcase it for you guys,” Thorne commented. “You guys get to see it—I already know who [Tapia] is.”

After picking up a 67-50 victory in the second game of the double-header against Bishop’s on Saturday, the Martlets sit snugly atop the RSEQ. Next Thursday, they head to Quebec City to face off against third-place Laval [3-3], and will look to remain undefeated before returning home on Saturday for a rematch.