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Photo: Marta Kierkus.

Seniors shine in last regular season games at Montpetit Hall

While students at the University of Ottawa enjoyed their final days of reading week, the Gee-Gees men’s basketball team geared up for an emotional weekend at Montpetit Hall.

Coming to town to battle to the Gees were the Waterloo Warriors and Laurier Golden Hawks on Feb. 19 and 20, respectively.

Both opponents have had their fair share of struggles in the season, and after the Gee-Gees suffered their second loss of the season to the McMaster Marauders, followed by a too-close-for-comfort win over Brock, they looked determined to come out on top.

The second night against Laurier was the more inspired affair. In light of senior’s night, the Gee-Gees’ starting lineup reflected the occasion. The team started all of the players being honoured for their time in garnet and grey, including Zach Traer who is not a mainstay in the team’s lineup.

Traer has spent his career for the team being the player to give everything in practice and work at improving his teammates as well as boosting morale. His hard work culminated with getting the ball in his hands seconds into the game and draining a three-pointer. After an eruption from the crowd and the bench, the following Gee-Gees offensive possession he spotted up and drained another three.

The heartwarming start to the game also kicked off a flurry of scoring from the Gee-Gees in their first 100-plus point performance of the regular season. Laurier fought the Gees hard and were able to capitalize at times, but the offensive pressure displayed by Ottawa was far too much for the Golden Hawks in the 109-79 win.

The team’s four seniors—Mike L’Africain, Vikas Gill, Mehdi Tihani, and Traer—all carried the Gee-Gees to victory. The four accounted for 53 of the team’s points in the game, led by L’Africain with 24.

For L’Africain, the night was extra special as he tallied his 380th assist in a Gee-Gees uniform, which was enough to pass Josh Gibson-Bascombe on the all-time list at the U of O.

“It’s my favourite stat for sure,” said L’Africain. “It’s a perfect one for me to get. These guys want me to be successful and vice versa, so it makes it easy because everyone is unselfish.”

“There’s no better feeling, especially getting one off Mike to help him on his special night with the assists record,” said Traer on his back-to-back threes to open the game. “It was easy to step back and take a different role, and I’m fine with that because I know I’m part of this family as much as anyone else on this team.”

Although the night was about the veteran players on the roster, the younger Mackenzie Morrison also continued to solidify his role among the talented squad.

In 14 minutes, Morrison had 11 points, five rebounds, and an assist. The second-year forward has seen his time roll increase and is looking to take the next step with the team.

“My team’s been super supportive putting me in positions to succeed,” said Morrison. “I’m just doing whatever I can to help this team eventually hopefully win a national championship.”

The previous night, the team was able to exercise their bench in a 85-60 win over the Waterloo Warriors.

But behind point guard Mike L’Africain, the team stormed ahead to a 40-29 lead at halftime, and continued to pull away in the second half.

For the first time this season, the Gee-Gees put a lineup consisting of all first- and second-year players on the floor. Calvin Epistola ran the point, Brandon Robinson, Mackenzie Morrison, and Malik Turrenne were on the wing, with Andrew DeGroot manning the post.

“We have a long season left,” said Derouin. “We have to get these guys some minutes. Guys like Mackenzie Morrison and Brandon Robinson are a big part of us going as far as we can.”

L’Africain was the leading scorer on the night with 24, followed by Caleb Agada with 17.

Following a Northern Ontario roadstand next weekend on Feb. 26 and 27, the Gee-Gees will enter the playoffs in pursuit of a national title. If you ask the players how they feel about this next step, they’ll tell you that they are more ready than ever.

“We’re a machine and this is what we’re built for,” said L’Africain. “We’re getting better everyday and there’s one thing you don’t want to make us—and that’s hungry.”