Clutch last-second play by L’Africain keeps national championship hopes alive
With 1.1 seconds left in the conference quarterfinal, Gee-Gees fifth-year point guard Mike L’Africain single handedly kept his team’s season alive.
He corralled an inbound pass, shook two defenders, found a lane, and drove to the net switching hands and hit on a layup to put the Gees ahead 73-72.
The Queen’s Gaels came to Montpetit Hall off of an inspired performance against Toronto and were prepared to play spoiler to a surging Gee-Gees team.
The size of the Gaels posed a massive hurdle for the Gees from the opening tip. The Gaels played stingy rim-defence, allowing very few finishes in the paint.
The Gee-Gees found offensive success early in the game as they kept the Gaels attack at bay holding a 10-point lead at halftime. L’Africain was ensuring his final game at Montpetit would be memorable as he racked up 12 points and four assists in the first half.
Queen’s would eventually catch the Gee-Gees off guard in the third quarter, as their defence was clicking and their stars awoke.
Gaels guard Sukhpreet Singh was held to eight points in the first half, and then he was all over the floor in the second scoring 11 points. Mike Shoveller also was dominant for the Gaels, scoring 11 points and pulling down 14 rebounds.
“Queen’s played a phenomenal game,” said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin. “We couldn’t get into any rhythm offensively. They did a really good job at staying home on our shooters, they did a good job at challenging without fouling, and we weren’t finishing.”
The momentum of the game seemed to be shifting into the hands of the Gaels as the final stretch of the game approached. The only player on the Gee-Gees that had any luck offensively in the fourth quarter was L’Africain, as he began taking over the game in the final minutes. L’Africain was clearly locked in and was dead set on leading his team to victory, scoring 12 of the team’s final 16 points.
Both squads traded blows in the fleeting seconds, Singh went to the free-throw line in hopes of making it a three-point game with nine seconds left.
Luckily for the Gee-Gees he missed his second, L’Africain snagged the rebound and was strategically fouled by Queen’s. The inbound pass led to L’Africain’s lay-in to ice the game for the Gee-Gees.
L’Africain’s teammates swarm him following his clutch finish. Photo: Kim Wiens.
The fifth-year team captain led his team with 27 points and five assists, and Caleb Agada—despite struggling from beyond the arc—finished with an impressive 18 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists.
After the game, L’Africain spoke about his feelings towards his team and school that he has dedicated five years of his life to.
“I love our team, this is my school man,” he said. “I wear my team on my sleeve, it’s my heart, it’s my passion. I love these guys.”
Derouin thought his team played well, but there is plenty of work to do for the next stage.
“We’re going to need to be a lot better if we’re going to get to nationals next weekend,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys for winning, but it’s a lot to look over after tonight’s game.”
Agada brings the house down with a slam. Photo: Marta Kierkus.
The Gee-Gees will now prepare for the Ontario University Athletics’ conference tournament, the Wilson Cup Final Four. Top-seeded Ryerson will host the tournament after the Gees played host last year. The team will return to the same floor where they lost the national final last year, but also where they won the Wilson Cup over Carleton two years ago.
“We have to get in the gym and get ready for Final Four. We’re not going home yet,” said L’Africain.
The Gees will look for their third consecutive win against their archrival Carleton Ravens in the conference semifinal at 5 p.m. on March 11. A win guarantees the team a spot in the national Final 8 tournament—a loss would put the team’s fate in the hands of a wildcard selection.
All of the action from Toronto will be live streamed on OUA.tv.