Concordia’s men’s basketball team said it was worth the wait. One year after being upset by UQAM in the first round of the playoffs, the schools had themselves a rematch last Thursday at Loyola Gym. By the end of it, the second-ranked Stingers walked away with an 84-75 win, and a spot in the provincial final.
“That game motivated us all year,” point guard Damian Buckley said of last year’s 12 point loss. “We had a bad 2006 because of the way it ended. We expected to go to nationals last year, it obviously didn’t go as planned, and now we want to make it happen.”
For a while, the Stingers looked like anything but a national contender, missing open shots, and trading nine lead changes with UQAM through the first 15 minutes.
While UQAM’s zone defence welcomes the three-pointer, the Stingers struggled with their long-range shot. Senior Ben Sermonte and Defensive Player of the Year Dwayne Buckley combined to make just one of 11 shots from beyond the arc.
“We saw a difference once we started to get the ball inside,” said head coach John Dore. “We weren’t shooting the three very well, so we knew we had to change the focus of our game. We became more successful after we adjusted.”
With a new game plan in effect, the Stingers used a 19-5 run late in the first half, to take a double-digit halftime lead.
Senior forward Patrick Perrotte spent much of the game in his usual spot under the basket where he picked up 17 points and eight rebounds.
“I think last year’s loss was in the back of all of our minds,” said Perrotte. “But now that it’s over we have to realize that it’s just a small step towards bigger things.”
The Stingers led by as many as 25, but the Citadins did not go quietly in the provincial semi. UQAM pulled within seven, but when you’re up against the best free throw shooter in the province, coming all the way back isn’t easy.
That free throw shooter is Damian Buckley and he was nearly automatic making 13 of 14 foul shots in the second half. He finished the game 19-22 from the line, part of a career-high 36 points. He also had eight rebounds, and five assists.
“Damian is one of the greatest point guards I’ve known,” said UQAM head coach Olga Hrycak. “He’s quick, he’s smart, and it’s just such a different game when he’s on the floor.”
Hrycak and the Citadins would know, having beaten Concordia for its only regular season loss when Buckley was sidelined with a suspension.
The second-year Stinger was hard to miss last Thursday though, as he showed veteran-like leadership in just his first CIS playoff win.
“It’s indescribable,” Buckley said. “We were waiting all year for this game, for this moment. We came prepared and we were ready.”
The Stingers host the Laval Rouge et Or in Friday’s Quebec final. Tip-off from Loyola Gym is at 7 p.m., with the winner advancing to the Nationals next weekend in Halifax.
The Stingers say they’re not looking past Laval, but that doesn’t mean others won’t be.
“I have a lot of confidence that they’ll beat Laval,” Hrycak said. “I congratulated them at the end of the game because I know they’ll be our representatives at the nationals, and that’s how it probably should be. It’s very appropriate”
Still, the Stingers couldn’t translate their hard work into wins, and slowly but surely, saw their playoff hopes slip through the floorboards. At times it wasn’t pretty, but you know what, next year will be different.
And I’m not just saying that. The rookies should now be comfortable with the speed and atmosphere of university basketball. And they have some experience under their belts.
This year was also filled with many shining moments for the team.
Douglas being named a second-team All-Star was definitely one of them. And beating top-ranked University of Victoria in December’s Reebok Tournament made a statement early on that Concordia was a team to be reckoned with.
Ultimately, while the suspense of horror is nice, it would be even nicer to get a follow-through every once in a while next season. Stingers: You can save the cheap thrills and scares for the big screen, next year should be all about getting those checkmarks in the left column.