It is not unusual for a team coached by John Dore to be playing in a QSSF final. After all, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team has made appearances in five of the last six. What is surprising, and probably somewhat of a bigger surprise to the Laval Rouge et Or, is that the 2002-2003 version of the Concordia Stingers would be forcing them into a third and deciding QSSF final game right in there own gym.
Of course, no one expected a team that went two and thirteen the previous season to be even in the playoffs this year, but there they were. Furthermore, the Stingers had brought the almighty favorite Laval team to the brink of defeat before heading into Rouge et Or territory last Saturday afternoon.
But all good things must come to an end. Game three belonged to the Rouge et Or and it took a mere five minutes to win the game. They saved their best for the big game and when it was all said and done the final score was 76-56.
“They were like snipers,” said bewildered Stinger guard Philippe Langlois. “When a team comes out hitting 70 per cent from the three and 65 from the field nothing can go wrong.”
What seemed like a never-ending assault from the three-point line actually resulted in 24 Rouge et Or points by game’s end. They shot just as effectively from the field. But it was the quick threes in the first five minutes that deflated the Stinger crew and pumped up the over 2000 Rouge et Or fans.
With 15:07 remaining in the first half, and with 13 points already on the board for the home team, Dore called a time out.
“We were down 13-4,” Dore said. “We have been in that position before and we just had to stay on our plan.” But six minutes later Dore was forced into a second time-out now trailing 25-10. As an indication of how often Laval lived and died with the shot, they didn’t get a trip to the foul line until there was 2:19 remaining in the half. They didn’t need the foul line.
“We missed some early shots and missed a few rebounds,” said Stinger Center Dan Lacasse. “When they started moving further away from us we tried to adjust by taking more shots, maybe rushing the offence a little.”
“You don’t see many teams shoot that well,” said a shrugging Dore after the game. “It is difficult to come back against a team shooting so well.”
So the Stingers dug themselves a hole early. Laval’s six foot 7 inch centre, Marc-Antoine Horth, who played on the Junior National team and is a big strong guy who knows the game, was a key player on the inside.
Horth did his part by burrying 21 points, but it was his inside threat that influenced this game.
When Concordia tried to help out inside, Horth kicked it out and that is what set up the seven trays and dictated the pace of the game. The end result was that Laval forward Samuel-Audet Cow was good for 23 and guard Charles Fortier notched 17 by game’s end.
“With Laval shooting so well it change the game,” said Dore. “I told my players at the half that we have to try and compete and that the game wasn’t over.”
But the Rouge et Or played a flawless, some say a perfect, first half and walked proudly into their locker room leading 43-20. They were forced into some errors in the second half, but the Stingers didn’t do themselves any favours.
“In the first two games we got good productivity out of Philippe Langlois and Gavin Musgrave but we didn’t get a lot out of other players,” said a disappointed Dore. “We talked about that a lot and wanted to get some things going early in the second half but unfortunately we were not able to do it. Laval changed how we approached the game.”
“We tried to get more rebounds and steals and go to the boards a little more hoping to change the tempo of the game,” said Langlois. “It is pretty hard to come back when you are down to a team that seemed to get better as the game went on.”
The changes could be seen by who was sitting on the bench. Patrick Perrotte, who led the Stingers in season total points and was second in the league, hardly broke a sweat. “I have to admit that I was a little nervous at the start,” he confessed. “When Laval came out the way they did maybe I was a little impressed. It was my responsibility to get myself back in the game and I could not.”
But Perrotte could not be faulted nor could any member of the Stinger squad. Laval was just that good on this day. For the entire game Laval muscled and hustled and dominated inside, from the field and and from the three and maintained a 20-point lead. It was an offence vs. defence game. Concordia was looking to cut the lead in half and to get it down to single digits. When our boys began to make strides it was only seconds later that the lead was back to 20.
“Our problem wasn’t on offence because we were scoring,” said Lacasse. “But they were coming right back up the court and hitting their shots. We tried to play harder defence.”
Try as our heroes might this was Laval style basketball. “We never changed our strategy all year,” said Laval’s Head Coach Jacques Paiement. “The difference in the series was that today our defence played above average. In the first two games of the series we played our usual solid defence and so did Concordia and you could see how close the scores were. Today we were kings on defence.”
The Stingers won in overtime 93-90 in the first game and lost game two at home 56-55. Both games were defensive struggles. Paiement notes one exception to his team’s strategy today. “We played with more heart today and it helped that we were in front of our fans.”
“Our guys have to be proud of themselves,” said Dore. “Everyone picked us to finish last in the league and since the beginning of the year the only guys who had any confidence in the team were the guys on the team.”
In a classy move John Dore made a full scale line change with less than two minutes remaining and inserted players who sat most of the game on the bench. “I wanted them to have some playing time in a final,” said the coach. “They were part of this team all season and deserved to be out there.”
Langlois, too, composed himself and congratulated all of his teammates in the dying minutes of the game. “We have nothing to be ashamed about,” he said. “We will be back.”
“Our goal this year was to catch McGill and Bishops and Laval,” said Dore. “We didn’t get to catch Laval this year.”