Stingers experience nationals for the first time

Head coach Popovic expects Sami Ghandour (#24) to have a bigger role in next year’s team. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Losses to Ryerson and Saint Mary’s give Concordia vision for next season

In their first U Sports nationals appearance since 2012, the Concordia Stingers men’s basketball team lost both of their games in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In their quarter-final game against the Ryerson Rams, the Stingers lost 87-47; the Saint Mary’s Huskies beat them 84-67 in a consolation game.

“It was a first experience for all of us at nationals, players and coaches included,” said head coach Rastko Popovic on CJLO Sports on March 11. “We knew it was going to be a different experience since it’s something we never lived before. You can’t just imitate walking into a big [arena] like that.”

Adrian Armstrong shoots a free throw during the RSEQ final. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

Dalhousie University hosted the nationals at the Scotiabank Centre, which has a seating capacity of over 10,000 people. The Stingers qualified for nationals after winning the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) championship on March 2.

In their opening game, the Stingers played a strong Rams team that lost in the final last year, but won bronze this year. The Rams had five players 6’7 or taller, while the Stingers’s tallest players—Aleks Simeunovic, Olivier Simon, and Matthis Guerut—are all 6’7.

Popovic said he spoke to other coaches before playing Ryerson, and they all said the Rams do a good job at contesting inside shots. The Stingers’s game plan was to shoot three-pointers, but they went 3/36 from three-point range, which hurt them on the scoreboard.

“We knew we were going to have to make some three-point shots to stay in the game,” Popovic said. “Early in the game, it didn’t help that we fell behind 12-0. We had some great looks, but they just didn’t fall down.”

Adrian Armstrong, who made a team-high 56 three-point shots this season, went 2-12 in the game against Ryerson. The Stingers did a better job with their threes in their second game, going 12/32, but Saint Mary’s did better with their overall shooting.

“It was a great learning experience, but we’re disappointed with the results,” Popovic said. “Now we have a good idea of what it takes to make it to the next level.”

Near the end of their game against Saint Mary’s, Popovic subbed off fifth-year guards Garry Merrisier and Ricardo Monge for the last time in their Stingers careers. Popovic said it was an emotional moment for the whole team.

“We see these guys more than we see our family some days,” Popovic said. “We spend a lot of time together at practice, in the weight room, individual workouts, etc. So these guys are like my family. You never think about that moment until it comes, when you realize this was the last time they came off the floor.”

The head coach was already thinking about next season with some of the substitutions he made in the last quarter of that final game. Rookie guard Tariq Bakri-Hamad, who averaged 1.6 minutes per game this season, played 12 minutes against Saint Mary’s and scored 10 points.

“Against Saint Mary’s, we made a run [and cut their lead] in the second half,” Popovic said. “Tariq was on the floor during that run so those are very valuable minutes for him.”

The players will take a break to focus on their exams, but Popovic wants to see them in the weight room as soon as possible. Even though the 2019-20 regular season starts in November, the Stingers could be playing preseason games as early as August.

Main photo by Mackenzie Lad.

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