On Saturday, the sold-out Love Competition Hall screamed “MVP” for senior guard Vincent Dufort, Redmen basketball Head Coach David DeAveiro received an ice-bucket shower, and the Redmen squad converged together, hugging and hollering, in the middle of the court after the final whistle.
McGill had just claimed its third RSEQ title in four years, and earned a spot at the CIS National Championships. Dufort starred with 21 points and 8 rebounds, as McGill overcame a persistent UQÁM side 78-67.
The joy after the buzzer reflected the hard work of one of Canada’s most highly-touted teams.
“It feels amazing,” Dufort, who played his final game at Love Competition Hall with the Redmen, said. “It’s just an amazing bunch of guys and it’s so awesome to be able to win it for them and for Coach [DeAveiro] who does so much for our team, and it is awesome to leave on a good note for him.”
McGill started slowly, conceding an 18-13 deficit in the first quarter; UQÁM’s excellent outside, midrange, and free throw shooting proved a threat for the entire game.
“I think that we have a group that when we play well, when we share the ball and we make the extra pass […] we are as good an offensive team as anyone,” Head Coach Nate Philippe of the UQÁM Citadins explained. “We definitely made a lot of progress throughout the year and I am very proud of our group.”
McGill performed effectively against UQÁM guards Kewyn Blain, Greishe Clerjuste, and Rubens Poteau. The trio hit some key shots throughout the game and made 11 of their 12 free throws; however, McGill ultimately held them to a combined 15 of 43 shooting. Clerjust, who had 24 points in the semifinals against Concordia, only made 4 of 14 shots.
“We were trying to keep him to his weak hand–his right hand–most of the time and be in his face because he is a very good catch and shoot [player].” DeAveiro explained. “We wanted to put more pressure on him and close the areas down.”
After the first quarter, McGill stormed ahead, playing aggressive basketball and hitting key shots. Dufort led the way with strong drives to the basket, and excellent rebounding against UQÁM’s tall front line. Junior guard Dele Ogundokun and junior point forward Jenning Leung shot with authority from the three–point line to hit a combined six treys. Junior guard Michael Peterkin played with energy off the bench, hauling in nine rebounds. UQÁM held its own until the final quarter, where the visitors were worn down by McGill’s all-round, tenacious effort.
“[Confident], I think that’s what we have been all year,” DeAveiro said. “Our biggest strength has been our fourth quarter. I think we have won almost every fourth quarter we have played this year. For us, it is about imposing our will on our opponents, and sticking to our plan.”
McGill displayed their versatility over the Final 4 weekend: The Redmen overcame a stretch of poor shooting in the semifinals to race away from Laval in the second half. A number of players stepped up their games on the offensive end when the Redmen were most in need, in particular Dufort, Leung, and sophomore centre Noah Daoust. On defence, McGill was disciplined and overwhelming, with Peterkin and sophomore forward François Bourque effective on the offensive glass, as well as Ogundokun running past screens to defend on the perimeter.
McGill enters nationals as one of the most feared defensive teams in the country. The 2015-2016 season has been a vindication of one of the best McGill squads in recent history; they started strongly, overcame a post-Christmas shooting slump to win seven of their last eight RSEQ games, and now have a pennant to cap it off. McGill hopes to display its savvy and talent in the CIS Championships.
“It’s going to take an entire team effort,” Dufort said. “I think we have the talent to do it. If everyone comes together, we play hard on defence and we trust each other, I think we can come home with [the CIS Championship].”