Dwayne Buckley is back in a Stingers uniform and he wants to win, the only memory of last season’s knee injury a long, black brace on his leg.
“For me every game is important. I always want to win. Even in practice, I want to win every drill. So every game that we play against a CIS school is important because it counts in the rankings,” said Buckley, minutes after scoring 23 points Friday to lead Concordia past the Lethbridge Pronghorns in Game 1 of the 43rd annual Nike Tournament at Loyola Gym.
“Plus it’s our tournament, it’s my first game back, I always want to win,” he added.
That desire to win was applied to Saturday’s final, which pitted Concordia against a tough St. Francis Xavier X-Men squad. Despite squandering a 22-point lead late, and being outscored 30-21 in the fourth quarter, the Stingers managed to hold off the X-Men, winning an overtime nail-biter 102-101.
“We played really well for most of the game [against St. FX],” said Stingers head coach John Dore.
“But the things that helped us to be successful, we stopped doing [in the second half]. Primarily defensively, we allowed them to penetrate and get some open shots, and they got the momentum back.”
Indeed, Concordia started the game out strong, applying defensive pressure and causing many St. FX turnovers early. The Stingers also came out of the gate shooting well, going up 50-39 at halftime.
The Stingers struggled when the X-Men switched to a zone defence in the fourth quarter’s beginning, making bad passes and shot choices, and turning the ball over on consecutive possessions.
“We had a little trouble with the zone because our inside guys weren’t moving well enough, and then when we got it in, they were turning the ball over,” Dore said. “We didn’t execute as well as we will in the future. We should have won the game in regulation time, there’s no question about that.”
Point guards Decee Krah and Damian Buckley led the Stingers with 23 and 21 points respectively, while for the second time in as many nights, Dwayne Buckley had a stellar performance, going 7-for-12 and 4-6 from behind the three-point line for 22 points.
“Dwayne won the game for us last night and he really played well today,” Dore said after the overtime victory. “Just his presence is really important to us. It gives the team confidence.”
Evens Laroche, a former Dawson Blues player and first-year Stinger, is one of those team members who, by playing alongside veterans like Buckley, is gaining confidence in his own game. Laroche clocked in 40 minutes of playing time Saturday, while scoring 15 points and stealing the ball five times, in only his second game with Concordia.
“I knew that if I came to Concordia, I was going to work hard and earn my place on the court. I like it; it’s a good fit for me. They understand my game,” Laroche said.
“Evens is a terrific athlete. He’s going to be a heck of a player,” Dore said. “But we had a lot of guys who contributed. We played 11 guys in today’s game, which is a lot against a team like that.”
Indeed, according to tournament MVP Damian Buckley, the win was that much sweeter because it came against a strong team like St. FX.
“We played a good team, one of the top teams in Canada this year, and we beat them out. It looks good on the national level and it feels good for us to beat a team like that,” he said.
Despite only scoring seven points over the weekend, veteran centre Jamal Gallier provided a reassuring presence in the paint both offensively and defensively. In fact, in Friday night’s match-up against Lethbridge, Gallier put back a missed Dwayne Buckley free throw to extend the Stingers’ lead to 79-75 late in the fourth quarter, and on the very next play, blocked a Pronghorns shot to all but put the game away.
“I knew if the ball came off the rim, I had to get the ball and I had to score,” Gallier said. “I was ready for anything. After five years, I just go out there and if I don’t score, I play defence and try to help my team out.”
Ultimately, despite winning against physical teams like Lethbridge and St. FX, this year’s Stingers team is still in the process of getting comfortable with each other. There are still a few kinks to get out, but coach Dore isn’t too concerned at these early stages of the year.
“We had some lapses mentally which is expected,” Dore explained.
“But [this win] puts us on the map. It gives us a chance to be recognized nationally, and that’s what we like.”
But what Dwayne Buckley likes even more than national recognition, is winning.
“It’s my last year obviously so there’s one thing on my mind,” he said. “I’m not back to 100 per cent, but I’m pretty close. I still work out everyday. I’m still doing the rehab. And I should be there once the season starts.”