Wins over top-notch teams prove team’s strength moving into second half
The best basketball team in Canada had to put their talents to the test against their toughest challengers of the year so far.
The unbeaten Gee-Gees entered the big weekend at home prepping for two top 10 teams. For the Windsor Lancers and Western Mustangs, they had their shot to gain legitimacy among the national ranks.
In the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Wilson Cup semifinals last season, the heavily favoured Gees lost to Windsor in a shocking upset that wouldn’t soon be forgotten.
With this in mind, the Gee-Gees took their chance to exact revenge with a dominant 87-53 win. As far as all-encompassing wins go, this game may have been the strongest team effort this year.
Windsor hung with the Gees early in the first quarter but as to be expected, they couldn’t break through the staunch Ottawa defence.
“It’s a different team than in the past,” said head coach James Derouin. “We’re a little bit bigger, and when we’re able to shoot the ball well and defend it looks pretty good.”
Derouin admits that the days of blowing teams out and averaging 100 points per game might be over, but far better defensive showings and strong overall positional play makes the team better as a whole.
There weren’t many Gees without a hot hand on the night as five players scored in double digits. Caleb Agada led the team with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and two assists, while Brandon Robinson and Matt Plunkett added 16 each off the bench.
Robinson’s performance was potentially the best of his young career. After starting for the first five games of the season, a lineup shift may have been what the doctor ordered to get him going.
“I’ve been having a rough start to the year,” said the sophomore guard from Montreal. “My teammates kept believing in me and I worked really hard… and finally it’s starting to pay off.”
From a coaching standpoint, having a wealth of offensive talent to come off the bench is a luxury. Plunkett and Robinson’s games showed the power the Gee-Gees have when they’re locked in.
“It’s a different look for (Robinson) but maybe one he feels more comfortable with,” said Derouin.
“Plunkett, when he’s hot he just has to touch it and it goes in. He got it going tonight but he’s just got to give us that more consistently. Sixteen and four for both those guys is huge off the bench.”
In the second game of the weekend, the Gee-Gees faced their first nationally ranked team of the season. The sixth-ranked Western Mustangs gave the Gees all they could handle in London last season, and were hungry for a win this time around.
After foul troubles caused a first quarter offensive lull, the Gees were down 16-14. The garnet and grey would gain their legs when Mehdi Tihani decided to take over the game powering the team to a 88-57 win against the Western squad, which was averaging 70 points per game.
Tihani is undoubtedly one of the best defenders in the country. He earned his stripes being one of the only players in Canada able to guard Carleton’s Philip Scrubb, but against Western he decided to flex his offensive muscles as well.
Shooting a killer six-for-eight from beyond the arch, Tihani dazzled with 20 points and three assists, rebounds, and steals. After a slow offensive start to the year, an assistant coach told Tihani to be more confident with his shot and the tip payed off.
“I was hesitant on my first couple of shots,” said Tihani. “He told me to let it fly, just be focused and shoot. I guess that’s what I did today.”
The team is going to prep for the second half of the year during the break with a visit to an exhibition tournament at Université Laval in Quebec City. The Gees will see Laval, New Brunswick, and Calgary at the tournament before two weeks of preparation to face Carleton at the Raven’s Nest for the Bytown Battle on Jan. 16.