An unprecedented 460 people attended the RSEQ semi-finals which saw the top-ranked Redbirds (13-0) face off against the Citadins (4-9) on March 23. After a thrilling game, McGill emerged undefeated once again with a score of 77-71. With the highest attendance record of the season until the finals, both teams had hundreds of supporters in the stands eagerly cheering them on.
Before the start of the game, the Redbirds and coach Ryan Thorne received their RSEQ conference awards. Haris Elezovic was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year and received recognition as a second team all star along with captain Sam Jenkins. Jamal Mayali was named Player of the Year by the conference and Ryan Thorne received Coach of the Year in his third year of coaching.
The first quarter saw strong defence from both sides, but the Redbirds were already starting to come out on top, solidly ahead by seven points at only the three-minute mark. Mayali continued the scoring with a beautiful three-pointer, a layup, and two free throws made with ease, earning roars from the crowd. But UQAM remained strong and, unfortunately, the quarter ended off with the opposition edging out a 20-18 lead.
The second quarter was as uncertain as the first, with Citadins and Redbirds alike not letting each other gain a significant advantage. Though the first to score, UQAM was quickly matched by a jumper from Elezovic. Quarry Whyne closed a three-point gap with a free throw and a layup, but the Citadins swiftly retaliated, scoring four additional points.
With just over seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, Sam Jenkins scored a swift three, narrowing the deficit to 27-26 for UQAM. Although the Citadins scored again, Jenkins scored another three-pointer to equalize the score, making the crowd go absolutely bonkers. The rest of the second quarter was marked by successful free throws, as Mayali made four clean shots, and Whyne two. McGill came out on top with five points over their opponents.
The first few minutes of the third quarter proved tougher for the Redbirds. Mayali quickly scored with a jumper, but UQAM was right on their tails. The Citadins managed to tally 12 points while the Redbirds struggled to match them. However, with less than six minutes left, the Redbirds changed their pace and pushed the score back up, thanks to a series of layups and threes from Jenkins, Whyne, and Mayali. The score was 54-50 for the home boys going into the final frame.
Jenkins gave the Redbirds their first points of the last quarter with a layup and another three-pointer. The Redbirds were relentless with quick passes and excellent defence. Sydney Gauthier and Mayali both scored with amazing three-pointers; the fourth quarter was once again marked by free throws as the team sank four. The Redbirds finished the fourth quarter with a 77-71 win.
Mayali explained to the Tribune that the victory came as no surprise.
“It went as expected,” he said. “We knew they were going to come out aggressively and want to push the pace. We were ready for that and knew how to respond when we felt the force of UQAM. I expected us to come out victorious. […] I only see us being champions.”
This 13th consecutive win was a reflection of the team’s incredible performance this year, as well as coach Ryan Thorne’s leadership. It was also a good omen for Saturday’s RSEQ final against the Concordia Stingers, which saw the Redbirds clinch the championship, 48-46.
“We know basketball is a game of runs and that was especially evident last night against UQAM,” Jenkins said in an interview with the Tribune. “But, all throughout the game we kept reminding each other if we play this game at our pace, nobody is going to beat us. In the end, we found our pace, and the game turned out in our favour.”
Quotable: “The team throughout the year has performed very well. We have managed to grind out some very tough and close games. As a team, we have responded very well in those tight moments and it has shown us and everyone that we don’t run away when the pressure intensifies.” —Jamal Mayali, fifth-year guard
Moment of the Game: During the second quarter, Sam Jenkins scored back-to-back three-pointers sending the crowd into frenzy.
Stat Corner: Mayali tallied 21 points and Jenkins 20, meaning the pair scored over half of the game’s 77 points.