Head coach Rastko Popovic says team needs to forget about past semi-final losses
Any university basketball fan knows the end of February means the start of playoffs. After a long regular season, the best teams battle across the country to determine who will win their conference championship. For an eighth-straight season, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team will compete in the playoffs.
“It’s going to be fun, and we are excited to get to this time of the year,” said head coach Rastko Popovic. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”
The Stingers will host the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) semi-final against the Université Laval Rouge et Or on Feb. 28. The Stingers went 2-2 against the Rouge et Or this season. They lost the first game, 83-66, on Nov. 12 in Quebec City, then lost the second game at home on Jan. 25, before winning the third game two days later on the road, 84-61. On Feb. 24, the Stingers beat the Rouge et Or, 71-59, in their final regular-season game before the playoffs.
“We kind of adjusted what we wanted to do defensively [after] the first game,” Popovic said. “We have to force them to do things they don’t like. They’re not a great shooting team, and we’ve done a good job this year at mixing up some defences versus them.”
The Rouge et Or have three of the top scorers in the RSEQ with Frantson Démosthène, Joël Muamba and Alexandre Leclerc. Popovic said Démosthène scores a lot in the paint, Muamba’s speciality is mid-range shots, while Leclerc could score from three-point range.
“You’re not going to fully stop them because they could put the ball in the basket,” Popovic said. “For us, it’s important to make sure we don’t give Leclerc any open threes, or don’t give Démosthène any offensive rebounds and second-chance points.” The head coach added that limiting those players’ scoring chances is easier said than done.
As for the Stingers, they will need to rely on their veterans to provide offensive scoring. Fifth-year forward Ken Beaulieu, third-year centre Schneiders Suffrard and fourth-year guard Ricardo Monge led the Stingers in scoring this season.
Popovic said Monge, the team’s captain, has consistently worked hard for most of the year. “He does [well] on both ends of the floor every night,” Popovic said. “He often has to guard the best [player] on the other team.”
Popovic added that Beaulieu had a strong second half of the season, improving his rebounding. “We’re going to need Ken to do all the little things to help us win.”
Beaulieu, Monge and Suffrard are the only players on the team who experienced the Stingers’s two semi-final losses in the past two seasons.
In the 2015-16 season, Popovic’s first as head coach, the Stingers had a 10-6 record but lost to the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) Citadins, who had a 7-9 record, in the first round. Last season, the Stingers once again had a better record than the Citadins but lost in the do-or-die game.
“Hopefully they’ve learned from those situations,” Popovic said about his team. “Sometimes, you have to go through those situations to learn what’s necessary to win.”
However, Popovic said he will need his players to focus on playing the game against the Rouge et Or, and forget about the past.
“The team that makes the least mistakes is going to win the game,” Popovic said. “We have to follow our game plan and really understand what’s necessary to beat Laval.”
Main photo by Alex Hutchins.