As the clock ran down to zero, and the buzzer sounded at the end of the fourth quarter to signal the end of the QSSF men’s basketball final between the Concordia Stingers and UQAM Citadins in front of a sold out, championship-worthy crowd of 623 at the Concordia Gym last Thursday, Stingers point guard and Quebec MVP Damian Buckley laid on his back at center court and was mobbed by his teammates.
That moment was indicative of the Stingers’ success in a game that was more difficult than most envisioned going into it. Concordia trailed by 10 at halftime before a third quarter rally led the way for a 79-76 victory to secure their place in the CIS Final 8 National championship tournament later this week.
“It was crazy,” Damian said of the feeling when the buzzer sounded. “First, we were down 10 at halftime. It was also my brother [Dwayne’s] last year, it was [centre] Jamal [Gallier]’s last year and I felt like I couldn’t go any more. I was cramping for the entire second half. I felt like asking for a sub but I continued, I played and we came through.”
“Damian Buckley is going to be an all-Canadian again this year,” said Stingers head coach John Dore. “He’s the best point guard in the country. We put the ball in his hands for the last 1:20, said ‘this is what we’re going to do,’ and we did it.”
Buckley put in a valiant effort that was routine for followers of the Stingers the entire season. He had 21 points and 11 assists, while playing practically every minute.
In a game where veteran leadership was lauded, the Stingers also got an outstanding performance from a first-year player. Evens Laroche had 28 points in the game, missing only one shot – going 11/12 – from the field. He also knocked in all of his six free-throws, and had six offensive rebounds including one that allowed the Stingers to knock valuable time off of the clock with less than a minute remaining.
“For me, it was now or never,” Laroche said. “I played like it was the last game of my life. I came in stronger, worked harder and was tougher and we came away with the win.”
“Evens was great in the second half,” said Dore. “He rebounded, he was active on the glass and benefited from feeds from Damian inside. He adds a different dimension to our team.”
The Stingers, who trailed by 10 at halftime, fell behind by 12 (51-39) early in the third quarter. Then, they went on a 17-3 run to finally take the lead 56-54 in that quarter. The turnaround was based on defence, and a halftime talk in the locker room.
“We told the guys that there was a lot of time left,” Dore said. “There were 20 minutes left and we had to do what we do and that’s get defensive stops. We came out in the second half with lots of intensity. We had a couple of emotion plays, with Pierre Thompson taking a charge, we scored some baskets and we were right back in the game,” he said.
“Playing good defence was the most important thing,” Thompson said. “We couldn’t just try and score because they are just as good as us offensively. We had to get stops and that’s what we did.”
“At halftime I said this wasn’t going to be my last game,” Dwayne said. “We pulled together, played harder and we pulled it off.”
“I am so proud of the guys,” said Gallier. “We could have easily folded. We haven’t played one good third quarter all season but we pulled together, came back and took the lead.”
“We believed we could win,” Damian said. “We knew we could do it. The guys didn’t falter, we played as a team and got the job done.”
Concordia took the lead for good coming out of a timeout with 1:40 remaining when Decee Krah put Concordia up 77-75.
UQAM had a chance to tie the game with 10 seconds left, but a wild three point attempt by Adil El Makssoud missed the mark.
This marks the Stingers first trip back to Nationals since 2007, when Concordia entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed, but was shocked by the No. 8 Saint Mary’s Huskies in the first round.
Seven players remain from that team, and two – fifth year players Dwayne Buckley and Gallier – remain from the 2005 team that lost to the Carleton Ravens in the championship game.
The Stingers are looking to build off of being upset in their last Nationals appearance. After losing their first game, they achieved the best possible result taking home the consolation final.
“In 2007, I was one of the leaders,” said Damian. “I was only in my second year but now I’m in my fifth year. We know what to expect, and we know what it will take to win a National Championship.”
“A lot of us learned from that mistake [in 2007],” Thompson said. “The tournament is going to have the top eight teams in the country. Everyone will be good, so we have to work just as hard as anyone we play.”
For the graduating members of the Stingers, their last game on Concordia soil will bring memories of a Quebec championship.
“This means everything to me,” Gallier said. “I have never worked so hard in my life. Everything the coaches put me through to make me a better player was worth it. This is for my parents, my family, my team, my coaches . . . Everyone that knows me, this is for them. Now we’re going to Ottawa and we have work to do there.”
“This is the only way it should end,” said Dwayne Buckley.
“But it’s not the end yet. This was only one step. It was only one of our goals.”
Final 8 Schedule
8:00 Carleton-St. F.X.
Final 8 Schedule
12:30 Consolation SF #1
2:30 Consolation SF #2
6:00 Semifinal #1
8:00 Semifinal #2
Final 8 Schedule
1:30 Consolation Final
CIS Men’s Basketball
Final 8 Seedings
(Final regular season ranking)
1 Carleton (1)
2 Calgary (T-5)
3 UBC (2)
4 Ottawa (3)
5 Western (4)
6 Dalhousie (NR)
7 Concordia (7)
8 St. F.X. (T-5)