Sixth-place finish highlights late struggles, provides lessons for retooling next season
They say every dog has its day, and the poetic beauty of playoff collegiate basketball, is that at any time, the underdog can have their day.
The Gee-Gees men’s basketball team spent the majority of the 2015-16 season as the top-ranked team in the nation. But a semifinal loss to Carleton in the Wilson Cup Final Four should have raised more concern than it did at the time—something went wrong, and the team never really figured it out.
In a back-and-forth quarterfinal affair with the Dalhousie Tigers at nationals in Vancouver, the Gee-Gees had their national championship hopes dashed in a heartbreaking fashion on March 17. The loss is the team’s lowest exit in four years, as the team came away with a bronze in 2013, followed by two consecutive silvers.
Dalhousie played incredibly tight defence, while the Gee-Gees flirted with various leads throughout the game.Sloppy ball handling lead to a damning 24 turnovers and, despite shooting better than the Tigers, the Gees had to quietly exit their push for a national title.
Fourth-year forward Matt Plunkett led the team with 17 points, followed by fifth-year point guard Mike L’Africain with 16.
Dalhousie advanced to play Carleton in the national semifinal on March 19, while Ryerson took on Calgary on the other side of the bracket. Carleton was given all they could handle by the Tigers, but in the end they advanced to their sixth consecutive final. Ryerson was upset by Calgary, allowing the Ravens to walk their way to another national title in the finals, the emptiest of them all with a 101-79 final score.
In consolation competition, the Gees took on the Thompson Rivers Wolfpack, defeating the team from Kamloops B.C. in a 78-77 thriller.
Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin elected to not play any of his graduating players in the match so the team could begin getting accustomed to life without L’Africain, forward Vikas Gill, and guard Mehdi Tihani.
The Wolfpack shot at a better clip than the Gees, but in crunch time fourth-year forward Caleb Agada stepped up for the Gees and willed the team to victory.
Leading 78-72 in the final minutes, the Wolfpack’s late push was not enough to hand the Gees their second upset.
Agada led the team with an impressive 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Second-year forward Mackenzie Morrison had 16 points coming off of the bench, showing his maturity in the Gee-Gees’ system.
On the following day, the Gees took on the host UBC Thunderbirds in the consolation final. After a fire alarm delay to begin the game, the Gee-Gees came out flat once again, and after six lead changes throughout the match UBC walked away with a 93-76 win.
Plunkett and Agada continued their solid performances in the tournament, both scoring 18 points for the Gees, and third-year forward Brody Maracle also added 12 points off of the bench.
Photos: Rich Lam.
In the end, it was an incredibly disappointing end to the season, and despite the accolades and highs that the year brought, next season has the makings to be just as good—if not better.
There will be some shifts in the lineup as L’Africain and Gill graduate, while the return of Tihani is still up in the air.
Agada will be a force for the Gees in his final year, and the team will likely also rely heavily on Plunkett, Brandon Robinson and Mackenzie Morrison.
The biggest additions to the team next year will be the services of two elite transfers, forward Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles from Carleton and point guard Adam Presutti from McMaster.
Pierre-Charles averaged seven points and just under five rebounds per game for the Ravens last season, however his numbers took a hit as he was largely overshadowed by the Ravens’ Scrubb brothers. The forward shot an astonishing 58 per cent from the field and an even more impressive 58 per cent from three.
Presutti is a massive addition as well for the Gees as he has averaged nearly 10 points per game, along with three rebounds and two assists per game. He will be an excellent facilitator for the Gee-Gees while he and current first-year guard Calvin Epistola replace L’Africain.
Although this season did not shake out as anticipated, the Gees still hold loads of potential for success in their next season.