It was the same two teams. It was the same heated rivalry. This time, however, the stakes were higher. This time, winning the game meant more than just a tick in the win column, it meant a trip to the National Championships in Halifax.
The Stingers’ nearly perfect 15-1 season would have been insignificant if they disappointed Friday night. All season long, everyone expected it to come down to these two teams. All season long, it was Laval’s size versus Concordia’s speed. And all season long, the question remained, “who will it be”?
Giving the sold-out crowd at the Loyola gym a battle they would be sure to remember, the game was merely the culmination of a rivalry that has lasted throughout the regular season. In the end, the Stingers handed the Laval Rouge et Or their biggest upset in four years, edging them 75-72 and ending Laval’s reign as the top team in Quebec.
Both teams came out with unparalled intensity, resulting in five lead-changes in the first half. In the opening minutes, Laval was dishing the ball to their six-foot-seven, 250 pound centre Marc Antoine-Horth while Stinger guard Chris Blackwood charged the home team’s offense by sinking a three and then completing a three-point play.
Ten minutes into playing time, the Stingers trailed Laval by five after some missed shots and a lack of rebounding. Blackwood and Rastko Popovic each nailed a shot from the arc and some drives from rookie Dwayne Buckley and Blackwood helped Concordia regain the lead 36-35.
“The coaches made it clear to me that my role was to get to the basket and hope to draw fouls,” said Buckley, who carried the Stinger squad with 17 points and six rebounds in the game.
Adding to the swing in momentum, Concordia’s MVP point guard Phil Langlois then had a monster block on Laval’s marquis veteran, Charles Fortier to bring the fans to their feet. The momentum seemed to be too much for the Rouge et Or, who were forced to call their first time out with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.
After Laval’s Dominique Soucy hit his fourth three-pointer, Popovic returned with one of his own, closing the first half with Concordia up by three, 41-38.
Within the first minute of the second half Laval’s big guy, Antoine-Horth, drew his third foul, and the Stinger offensive slowed down to accommodate smarter passing and patience. Concordia extended their lead to 51-43.
“We tried to keep changing the tempo of the game to keep them off balance,” revealed Head Coach John Dore. “We took advantage of mismatches and worked really hard.”
In a telling moment of the night, with no one on him, Antoine-Horth botched a dunk which Stinger guard Ben Sormonte converted into a three-point shot, boosting Concordia’s lead to 11.
In any game, there’s a point where the shift in energy is so significant that the trailing team throws in the towel. Laval had many chances to wave their white flag in surrender, but like a championship team, fought back and took advantage of the Stingers’ missed opportunities – including a show-stopping alley-oop pass from Laval’s Philippe Cot