The men’s basketball team stretched their regular season winning streak to four games this weekend with victories against the 3-6 York Lions on Friday and the 2-8 Laurentian Voyageurs on Saturday. Forward Mitch Leger led the team with 25 points in their 72-68 win over York, and Nick DiDonato posted a team-high 19 points during the 85-65 win against Laurentian.
Queen’s trailed York by nine points at halftime on Friday night but fought back in the third quarter to narrow the gap to two points. The Gaels received strong fourth-quarter performances from Leger and forward Bernard Burgesson, whose clutch three-pointer in the last minute of play increased the Gaels lead to five points and provoked an explosive cheer from the stands in Bartlett.
The fan support over the weekend was supplemented by performances from the cheerleading squad as well as the dance team. Leger said the crowd noise helped the Gaels and speculated that it may have played a factor in York’s 43.5 per cent free-throw percentage.
“I don’t know if it was the crowd at all, but their free-throw percentage was pretty low,” he said. “It’s always good to have the crowd behind you being a sixth man.”
Leger said his team’s defensive lapses during the first half weren’t indicative of how hard they’ve worked to perfect their defence.
“We felt really bad about the first half because we defended so badly,” he said. “We put so much emphasis on defending that we should be able to beat them.”
The team regained some focus in the second half and held the Lions to 25 points in the last two quarters.
On Saturday night, the Gaels led 36-32 over Laurentian at the half.
DiDonato said they weren’t performing at their best until the second half, though.
“The coaches got us fired up and we came out with a lot of energy,” he said.
Assistant coach Duncan Cowan said the Gaels’ lethargic start Saturday was partly mental and partially due to fatigue from the physical play of the previous night’s game. Cowan also said playing strong in the latter half of games is becoming a trend with the team.
“We’ve proven this year to be a second-half team, which I guess is a good thing and a bad thing,” he said. “We certainly play well in the third quarter. We held them to 10 points tonight and 11 last night.”
Despite the win, Cowan said he was disappointed the men missed opportunities to blow the game wide open early. He was also less than pleased about the 23 points they allowed in the fourth quarter.
“I think our kids are still a little ways away from being able to concentrate hard enough to defend for 40 minutes,” he said. “If they do that, which they’re going to have to do against the top teams in the league, we can be very good.”
The weekend’s wins push the Gaels over the .500 mark on the season with six wins and five losses, leaving them tied with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues for third place in the OUA East. The Gaels will challenge the Blues for sole possession of third spot in Toronto on Friday.
“They execute their offence about as well as anyone in the country,” Cowan said. “I think we match up well if we can get the ball to the post and rebound like we have been lately.”
The Gaels’ presence down low has been improved with the addition of six-foot seven-inch forward Scott Stinson, who tallied five blocks and 15 rebounds on the weekend.
A successful preseason matchup ended the Gaels two year winless record against U of T. Cowan said the history between the two teams adds extra height to the already high stakes.
“That game is huge. It’s been three or four years now where it always is with them,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on it.”