CIS

Photo: Marta Kierkus

First win since 2007 in annual matchup proves the Gees mean business

The Gee-Gees men’s basketball team may have made their biggest leap in establishing a new guard in their heated rivalry against the Carleton Ravens. A mostly lopsided affair at the Canadian Tire Centre on Feb. 5 ended in a 78-72 Gee-Gees victory.

It was back in 2007 when Josh Gibson-Bascombe nailed a jumper as the game clock expired to defeat the Ravens in the first-ever Capital Hoops Classic. Since that day, the Gee-Gees have fallen to their foes in the past eight annual matchups.

Capital Hoops alongside the Panda Game is the most important athletic event for the Gee-Gees. There have been games that have been neck-and-neck over the years, but the Ravens seemed to always catch a break and get the victory.

In this year’s installation of the game, there was a vastly different air coming into the game. The Gee-Gees had defeated the Ravens on their home floor three weeks prior, and both teams lost to Ryerson in the same weekend, making them the second and third ranked teams in the nation.

For Carleton to suffer three losses in the regular season is practically unheard of over the last 15 years. The Gee-Gees were more prepared to fight this year, and they finally slayed their dragon on one of the grandest stages.

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A Gee-Gees fan embraces the excitement of a signature win over the Ravens. Photo: Marta Kierkus

From the opening tip, the Gee-Gees stole the momentum and never forfeited it. The nerves of playing in front of 10,105 screaming fans did not get to the team as they settled in early and let their stars shine.

Fifth-year point guard Mike L’Africain demonstrated his role as the heart and soul of the Gee-Gees team, especially with Caleb Agada still sidelined.

L’Africain was transcendent in the game, with 23 points, three assists and three rebounds—but his presence on the floor spoke more than his statline. Late in the game, he injured his shooting hand and as he was on his knees doubled over, the Gee-Gees faithful were dead silent. Luckily there was no serious injury and he returned to the floor.

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The other two stars for the Gee-Gees on the night were veterans Matt Plunkett and Mehdi Tihani. Plunkett gave the team 14 points off the bench, while Tihani added 13, played lockdown defence and iced the game from the freethrow line.

The Ravens seemed to be a step behind for the entire game, and it wasn’t until they started fouling in the final minutes of the game that they started crawling back.

Eight Capital Hoops and multiple games in the Final 8 tournament had been lost by the Gee-Gees on that floor—it was this time that they finally won.

For L’Africain, sifting through the fans rushing the floor and finally hoisting the trophy is something special, even more so being a part of a Gee-Gees team that beat Carleton twice in one season, something only ever done in 1999.

“I think it shows that we fight so hard for it,” said L’Africain. “I’m a historian, I know my Gee-Gees history and it feels good to be a part of one of those two teams.”

Telling of L’Africain’s will to win was his fight through injury in the final minutes of the game. When asked if he would have returned in a lower profile game, his answer was “probably, I’m a little bit psycho.”

“The guy for me tonight was Mackenzie Morrison,” said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin.

Starting in Agada’s spot, the second-year played tenacious defence and pulled down eight rebounds along with adding four points.

“I felt like his defence was phenomenal, diving on loose balls, every 50/50 rebound Mackenzie was on it. Caleb (Agada) gets us those balls and Mackenzie got us those balls tonight,” said Derouin. “You go into these games hoping a guy steps up and I think Mackenzie Morrison did it tonight.”

Derouin has had his fair share of heartbreak in the building and when asked how it felt to get rid of some of those ghosts, he said “it feels good obviously, any win against (Carleton) is great and that’s a testament to their dominance.”

“It’s special for us, but if we beat someone else it’s different. This team has like a 95 per cent winning percentage in the last 15 years, so anytime you beat a team this good it’s special.”

If anything, this game represents that there is only one more hurdle for the Gee-Gees to finally break away from Carleton and prove it’s their time to rule supreme.

Winning the National Championship is the next goal for this team, and they know that as sweet as this game was, there’s a lot of unfinished business to attend to.

Derouin has prepared his troops, they’ve made landfall, and now they have to fight their way to B.C. and bring home the school’s first title. There are still many games to play in between, but this team is finally ready for the next step.

“We’re happy with the win, but we want to win in March and I think we have a veteran group that understands that.”