Gee-Gees men’s basketball win first CIS medal in program history
Maclaine Chadwick | Fulcrum Staff
Photo by Richard Whittaker
EMOTION PULSED THROUGH Scotiabank Place over the weekend of March 8–10, as the eight best men’s basketball teams in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) gathered to fight for the gold medal and the glory of being the best university basketball team in Canada. In front of fans from across the nation, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees brought life to the lyrics of Canadian rapper Drake’s latest single “Started From The Bottom”, which echoed through the stadium during their bronze-medal ceremony. For the Gees, who went from cracking into tenth place in the CIS standings during the sixth week of the regular season to finishing in third, this historical bronze medal is certainly well deserved.
“It’s the first time in the history of our program that we’ve medaled at nationals; there is certainly some comfort there,” said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin following the final game of the tournament. “I went into the game really not knowing what to expect from myself and my players, but by the time the third quarter came around, I really wanted that bronze medal.”
Gee-Gees 82, Redmen 70
Up against former program coach David DeAveiro, the third-seeded Gee-Gees overcame the McGill University Redmen 82-70 in the first round of quarter-finals.
For Derouin, who had assisted DeAveiro at the U of O for six years, it was an almost cliché scene of the student overcoming the master.
“[The Gee-Gees] did a really good job of isolating us, playing a lot of ‘two-man game,’ finding mismatches and exploiting them,” said McGill’s DeAveiro. “We just played a very good team today, one that was better than us.”
Foul troubles didn’t help McGill’s game either—point guard Adrian Hynes-Guery and centre Aleksandar Mitrovic were both fouled out of the game.
“That’s what [Gabriel Gonthier-Dubue] does, he creates fouls,” said DeAveiro. “Today he was better in the post than we were.”
Game MVP and Gee’s captain Warren Ward recorded a double-double, contributing 23 points to the scoreboard and hitting 11 rebounds. Other Gee-Gees to make it to double digits on the scoreboard were centre Gonthier-Dubue with 15, guard Mike L’Africain with 13, forward Mehdi Tihani with 12, and guard Caleb Agada with 11.
With the Gee-Gees at a slim, one-point advantage going into halftime, the crowd at Scotiabank Place was almost in for another upset—earlier in the day, seventh-seeded Lakehead University upset second-seeded University of Cape Breton 74-61—but the Gee-Gees outscored the Redmen 54-43 in the second half of the game.
Impressive rebounding from the Gees—who edged McGill 35-29 in rebounds—also worked in favour of the Ottawa squad, who were then pitted against the Lakehead Thunderwolves in Saturday’s round of semifinal games.
Gee-Gees 62, Thunderwolves 66
The incredible journey from a nearly perfect regular season to the national championships came to an end on Saturday night, when the Lakehead Thunderwolves completed their second upset of the tournament and overcame the Gee-Gees by four points with a final score of 66-62.
“We just couldn’t get a break tonight,” said Derouin after the game. “Foul trouble hindered us all night, Johnny [Berhanemeskel] had a tough time, we just couldn’t make a shot. Our three [pointers] that have helped us all season let us down a little bit.”
Indeed, the normally on-target Gee-Gees went 2-19 on three-pointers—only seeing beyond-the-arc shots from L’Africain and Tihani. Berhanemeskel, normally a shooting force to be reckoned with, went 0-5 on three-pointers and contributed only two points to the Gee-Gees’ final score.
Leading scorer was Ward with 21 points and 10 rebounds—his second double-double of the tournament—and Gonthier-Dubue with 11 points and nine rebounds. Well-timed shots from L’Africain and pressure from rookie Agada brought the Gee-Gees close, but they were unable to close the four-point gap in the final seconds of the game.
“It sucks that we lost and it was a bitter, bitter defeat, but if you go 2-19 for threes in the game, you’re probably going to lose,” said fifth-year Ward.
“Gutty performance by Lakehead and Scott Morrison, the coach,” said Derouin. “They’re down, they’re injured, and they’re missing guys. They fought hard and they deserve to win.
“Tomorrow, it’s going to be tough to play for a bronze medal, that’s for sure, but our guys will be professional, we’ll be there, we’ll play as hard as we can.”
Gee-Gees 92, Axemen 85
The final game of their season—and for some players, their university basketball careers—was a hard-fought win for the Gee-Gees, who overcame the Acadia University Axemen 92-85.
Graduating players Ward, Jordan Vig, and Dimitrios Seymour all started the final game of their CIS careers, a well-deserved honour after contributing to the highest-ever win at a national championship in Gee-Gees history.
An early 9-3 lead got the Axemen off to a promising start, and they continued with competitive play throughout the first quarter, leading the Gee-Gees 28-20 when the first buzzer rang. The second quarter, a low-scoring event, brought the Gees within two points of the Axemen before halftime.
The Gee-Gees bounced back after the halftime break, and sank three consecutive shots from beyond the arc to give them a six-point lead. The third quarter also marked second-year forward Vikas Gill’s scoring peak, as he sunk four three-point shots to eventually give the Gees a seven-point lead going into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter made it clear that both teams wanted the bronze, as play became heated and the lead was passed back and forth between the Gee-Gees and the Axemen. A two-point lead gained by Ottawa with less than a minute remaining could have clinched it, but Acadia tied it up—sending the bronze-medal match into overtime play.
During overtime, Berhanemeskel gave a perfect demonstration of what he is best known for and sunk a key three-point shot with 31.6 seconds remaining in the game. Ward and Tihani then sank five of six free throws, securing the Gees a CIS medal.
The players, although ecstatic about their win, generally felt that the end result was bittersweet, especially after watching the Carleton University Ravens beat Lakehead to their ninth CIS championship title.
“We wanted that gold and we came close last night; it hurts to not be playing right now,” said Gill. “That was our main goal.”
“Everyone is here to compete from all over the country, so you’ve got to play your best,” said first-year Moe Ismail. “Next year we want to come back and win the gold.”
“I’m just really happy that we won and I can end my career on a win,” said Ward after the game. “To be part of this culture and group of people has really transformed me from a kid to man, and it is a really great feeling.”