Consider it a checkpoint en route to the ultimate destination. At least that’s how the Stingers are viewing their recently clinched division title. Concordia secured its second straight Quebec University Basketball League regular season championship last Saturday, but it’s a national title that remains the Stingers’ top priority.
“We set lots of goals at the beginning of the season, and getting home court was the first goal,” said fifth-year senior Chris Blackwood after Saturday’s 67-61 win over McGill. “But we have a lot more basketball in us.”
The Stingers have won nine straight, and own a conference record of 12-2, with a pair of regular season games remaining before the playoffs start in March.
“Winning the division, that was our first goal, and now we’ve achieved that,” said forward Dwayne Buckley, who collected a team-high 20 points in Saturday’s win. “Now it’s just like coach [John Dore] said to us: ‘we have seven games to go until we win the national championship.’ That’s what we’re looking at.”
Concordia, ranked seventh in the country, clinched the division title and home court advantage for the Quebec playoffs with a weekend sweep of Bishop’s and McGill.
Unlike earlier in the year when Concordia relied on its top rated offence to win basketball games, the Stingers’ defence has been the difference of late.
In Friday’s 61-47 win at Bishop’s, the Gaiters shot a season-low 28.8 per cent, and made just one of 16 three-pointers. It was Concordia’s best defensive showing of the season, and serves as a good indication of the gradual improvement the Stingers have made when they don’t have the ball.
“The past two or three games, our offence hasn’t been on,” said Blackwood. “Fortunately our D has been playing well. But if we get our offence back, and continue playing defence like this, watch out. We’re going to be very tough to beat.”
Concordia’s top four defensive performances this season have come in their last five games.
As for the offence, in addition to Dwayne Buckley’s 20 points against McGill, brother Damian chipped in with 14, while Blackwood also finished in double digits with 13 points.
Blackwood and shooting guard Rastko Popovic struggled from long distance, combining to shoot 4/18 on three pointers, but Coach Dore said he would still give his shooters the green light in future.
“They’re very capable of making those shots, and Chris is one of the best in the country at shooting the three,” Dore said.
The Stingers are off this weekend, as the rest of the conference jockeys for home court and playoff positioning. Concordia plays its final road game of the year on February 24 at Laval, before hosting UQAM on Senior Day on February 25.
Concordia has never lost to UQAM in 11 previous meetings. The two will likely meet in the best-of-one provincial semi-final at Loyola Gym on March 3.