The Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team found out just how little a regular season can matter on Wednesday night.
Facing a Laval Rouge et Or squad that won nine fewer games than Concordia in the regular season, it was Laval, the lowest seeded playoff team in the conference, who found itself with a 12-point lead with only eight minutes to go in the RSEQ semifinal game.
You could feel the anxiousness in the packed gym as the Stingers’ raucous home crowd was becoming restless as Concordia kept getting dominated by Laval, giving up easy baskets underneath the net and missing opportunities of their own.
With the crowd urging them on, though, the veteran Stingers were able to do what all good teams do: beat inferior opponents at home.
Leading by six with two minutes left, Laval’s inexperience showed. The Rouge et Or began turning the ball over more frequently and looked out of sync on offence, missing easy jump shots. This fired up the home crowd and the 500 or so fans in the small Loyola gym were almost deafening, making it difficult for the Rouge et Or to focus.
“It was tough,” said Laval coach Jacques Paiement Jr. “We fed off it for a bit, but then it became a bit of a disturbance.”
The home side appreciated the vociferous crowd. “When the crowd comes out like that it makes it very difficult for teams to focus,” said Concordia guard Kyle Desmarais who scored 11 points, with five coming in the crucial final seconds of the game. “They have a couple young guys on their team and I think they got a little rattled.”
Chants of “BOR-IS!” rained down from the crowd as Concordia fans were trying to get into the head of Laval forward Boris Hadzimuratovic, who played a phenomenal game, scoring 14 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, but struggled in the final minutes, making two costly turnovers.
With less than 30-seconds to play and the Stingers trailing by two, Hadzimuratovic turned the ball over to Desmarais who rushed down the court and scored a tying lay-up, electrifying the crowd.
Laval had the final possession with a chance to score the winning basket in the dying seconds, but had an offensive possession they will be remembering in their nightmares.
Laval lost control of the ball and in the loose ball scrum that ensued, Desmarais gained possession and was fouled by Hadzimuratovic. With the Stingers in the bonus, Desmarais went to the free-throw line to shoot two, with the game tied and just two seconds left.
Desmarais appeared to make his first shot, but a bit of confusion set in as the officials had yet to blow in the play. The basket did not count.
“It was actually good because I got a practice free-throw in,” joked Desmarais afterwards. “It didn’t bother me too much. The guys just came over and said stay focused.”
When the play was blown in, Desmarais calmly hit the free-throw. He intentionally missed the second so as not to allow Laval a chance to inbound the ball and set up any type of offence. The Rouge et Or could only heave up an off-balance full-court shot that was nowhere near the basket.
After leading by 12 just eight minutes earlier, the Rouge et Or could only look up at the scoreboard showing a 66-65 loss and wonder what could have been.
The Stingers will now face the UQAM Citadins in the RSEQ championship game on Saturday night at Loyola, after 7-9 UQAM upset the Stingers archrival McGill, who finished with a 10-6 record this season.
“We prefer UQAM for sure,” said Desmarais. “McGill played us tough all year…UQAM is a better match-up for us.”
The Redmen were one of only two Quebec teams to beat the Stingers this year. Concordia won all four games against the Citadins.
Win or lose next week, it will be the final time Decee Krah and James Clark step on the court in Concordia’s gym. Krah was worried during the Laval game that it may have been his final contest in a Stingers uniform. “Usually I’m calm, but today I was sort of thinking that this could be my final game,” said Krah.
Stingers coach John Dore was pleased with the win, but not with how Concordia played, saying after the game the team was “lucky” to advance to the next round. The Stingers were outrebounded by an embarrassing margin, 63-39.
The coach and the team know the effort will have to be better next week if Concordia hopes to be playing in Halifax in the CIS championship tournament.
Forward Evens Laroche was honoured before the game for winning RSEQ MVP. John Dore was named coach of the year.
Concordia faces UQAM Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the RSEQ finals. The winner goes to Halifax. The loser goes to the off-season.