a, Sports

Redmen earn respect for McGill, Quebec at CIS Final 8

33 years after their last appearance at the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national championship tournament, the McGill Redmen were less concerned with bringing home the school’s first McGee Trophy, than with proving that they deserved a spot at the table. Of course, every team enters the tournament with sights set on the big prize, but it’s not always so simple. A look at the McGill bench in the waning seconds of their consolation final victory over the Victoria Vikes to secure fifth place told the story: this program is on the rise and has earned the respect of a nation.

“If you come here and go 0-2 it’s going to be the same old story, same old song. ‘Quebec isn’t good enough’ if we don’t win,” Redmen Head Coach Dave DeAveiro said. “It would be easy to play these [consolation] games and have them mean nothing to us. But they’re not. This is a measure of respect.”

(Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune)
(Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune)

McGill qualified for the CIS Final 8 in thrilling fashion, dispatching the Bishop’s Gaiters 77-74 in front of a packed crowd at Love Competition Hall. The conference title was McGill’s first since 1986. With the RSEQ banner in hand, the Redmen were granted Quebec’s only slot in the national tournament and were placed into the number six seed out of eight teams.

Friday’s quarterfinal may have featured the richest of storylines of the entire tournament. Upstart McGill travelled to the nation’s capital to face the No.3 ranked University of Ottawa Gee-Gees. But this was more than a David vs. Goliath battle; in this case, ‘David’ was literally McGill Head Coach Dave DeAveiro, who left his position as head coach of the Gee-Gees to lead the near-dormant Redmen program. The opponent: his former assistant James Derouin, and a team with designs on wresting the big trophy from their cross-town rivals and eight-time champion Carleton Ravens.

Although it took a few minutes to adjust to playing under the Scotiabank Place lights, McGill settled into a groove in the first half and trailed by just one point at the break. In the second half, however, the older and more experienced Gee-Gees began to take over. A three-pointer late in the game by Ottawa’s Warren Ward was the dagger to the Redmen’s faint title hopes and sent them into the consolation bracket.

“We’ve been resilient the whole year; I’m extremely proud of our kids. We played a very good team today,” DeAveiro said after the game. “They’re one of the best teams in the nation. … The way they’re playing right now they’re a pretty focused bunch. You don’t want to play that team right now; they have a great chance of winning the whole thing.”

One of the many promising signs for McGill in the first game, however, was the play of second-year point guard Vincent Dufort. He was named “Player of the Game” in front of a large cheering section of friends and family from nearby Smiths Falls, Ontario.

(Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune)
(Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune)

“I actually find it very helpful to have all that support,” Dufort said. “There’s a lot of people who made the trip up, friends and family. Just to know they’re there makes me feel kind of at home.”

On Saturday, the Redmen tipped off against the No. 2 Cape Breton Capers in “the game no one wants to play in”—the consolation semifinal. No one told the McGill players that, as they were determined to win a game at the national tournament. While they played a deep Ottawa team in the quarters, all they had to do against the Capers was focus on one player: All-Canadian James Dorsey, who posted a dominant 39 points. McGill’s more balanced attack found a way to answer him as the teams fought a back-and-forth battle all the way to the end of the fourth quarter. In front of the orange army Cape Breton supporters section and trailing by two points—the school of just 2,800 students bused over 100 students 25 hours from Sydney to Ottawa to support the Capers—Dorsey was fouled with 0.2 seconds left on the clock and made both free throws to send the game to overtime. After Cape Breton jumped out to a six point lead, Dufort and fourth-year point guard Adrian Hynes-Guery caught fire, combining for eight points and putting McGill up two once again in the final seconds. Fittingly, Dorsey took the last shot, but this time he missed, giving McGill its first win at nationals since 1977.

Redmen captain Winn Clark—who graduates this coming spring—was named “Player of the Game.” He said the victory was one of the biggest of his career.

“That [win] definitely ranks up there. The win against Bishop’s to come here was a pretty big one as well,” Clark said. “The program over the last four years has grown. We’ve been improving every year and it’s kind of a statement win that we’re here at nationals and we can compete. They’ll hopefully be back in the years to follow.”

(Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune)
(Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune)

On Sunday morning, the Redmen took on the Victoria Vikes, one team looking to build on its consolation success, and the other with one foot on the plane back to B.C. McGill hit a season-high 12 three-pointers to take down the Vikes 80-68 and secure a fifth-place finish.

The end of the season marks the end of the university careers of two Redmen players: Clark and Aleksandar Mitrovic. While they will be missed, Coach DeAveiro has a team that has gained experience in the spotlight and looks ready to return to Ottawa next March—not just to fight for respect, but to also challenge the nation’s best.

“If you look at the first time Carleton went to the nationals, they won the consolation games. This will hopefully be a stepping stone, a building block to where you want to be,” he said. “We’re laying the foundation and trying to get to the promised land and the championship game.”

The Carleton Ravens defeated the Lakehead Thunderwolves on Sunday to claim their ninth national title in 11 years. The Martlets take the court in the women’s Final 8 this weekend in Regina, Saskatchewan.

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