There’s no place like home- just ask the Concordia Stingers.
Done living out of their suitcases, as they had done for much of the previous month, the Stingers looked at ease in a weekend sweep of UQAM and McGill. It was Concordia’s first action in Montreal since early October, but two games into the regular season, the Stingers might want to consider unpacking those bags and settling in. Based on their first weekend of regular season play it could be a while before Concordia is bumped from the elite of the Quebec conference.
The Stingers ran an up-tempo offense, and played aggressive defense in opening the QUBL regular season at 2-0 for the second straight year. Concordia beat UQAM 91-64 Friday night at Concordia Gym, before defeating cross-town rival McGill 80-63 on Saturday. The Stingers never trailed in either game.
“This is a huge monkey off our back,” Chris Blackwood said after Friday’s home opener. “We were confident coming in, and stayed intense the whole game. We proved that we were the better team,” said the fifth-year point guard who helped ignite Concordia’s defense collecting seven steals in the two wins.
The 2-0 start to conference play was a long time coming for the defending QUBL champions. Concordia was 2-11 in pre-season play on the road, including seven losses to American Division I schools. According to the Stingers, the benefits of their challenging pre-season schedule can already be seen.
“We can see improvements on both sides of the ball,” said Rastko Popovic who led all-scorers Friday night with 23 points. “Our defense was great [against UQAM] and we know that that’s what gets our offense going. We pressured them on defense and went after them on offense.”
Popovic had his best game of the year in Friday’s win taking advantage of a vulnerable UQAM zone defense, while making five three-pointers, all in the first half.
“He had real great looks at the hoop,” coach John Dore said. “And give the other guys credit too. They recognized that he was playing well, and they were able to get him some good passes for open looks.”
Concordia’s athleticism and speed was too much for the Citadins to handle, but the Redmen gave it their best shot on Saturday, relying on a physical game that slowed down the pace.
As a result it was a parade to the free throw line, where the Stingers were good on 23 shots from the charity stripe, more baskets than the Redmen even attempted from the line (21).
McGill did succeed in keeping the Stingers from making a field goal in the final 9:46 of the first half, but the Stingers took any points they could, including 13 from the line during that stretch.
The physicality peaked with just over five minutes to play in the opening half when forward Andre Johnny was pushed to the ground and kicked in the head. Johnny bled profusely from above the eye, but the only foul called on the play was a technical on an understandably furious coach Dore.
“That’s the only way teams are going to be able to keep up with us,” said freshman point guard Damian Buckley. “We’re going to have to push it all the time, we can’t slow down. We just have to keep the pace up. Even when we’re off the ball, we’re always going to be moving.”
Damian Buckley led all scorers with 17 points, while brother Dwayne picked up a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Patrick Perrotte with 16 points, and Blackwood with 12, also reached double digits.
The Stingers are in Laval this Friday to take on the Rouge et Or, before facing the Redmen at Concordia Gym Saturday at 4 p.m.