Basketball kicks off

Mixed results for both teams in home openers

Guard Jonathan Daniels puts up a shot against Guelph.
Guard Jonathan Daniels puts up a shot against Guelph.

On Feb. 25, 2005, Bartlett Gym was packed. A Black Eyed Peas song played while hoop fans excitedly pounded rubber sole against wooden bleacher. They had reason to be excited that night: both the Queen’s men’s and women’s basketball teams were first-round playoff favourites, playing host to the U of T and York underdogs, respectively. Expectations were high, but unmet—as both teams were upset by their opponents and ousted from the playoffs.

Fast-forward nine months to last Friday night—the beginning of the Queen’s basketball home-opening weekend. At 6 p.m., the women’s team tipped off against a Brock Badgers team who came to town with a 2-0 record. Blame opening-night jitters if you wish, but the Gaels simply looked outmatched in their hometown debut.

Most of the damage came in the paint, where the Gaels were out-rebounded 38-16. The Badgers’ one-two punch of 6’1” Milaina Lagadins, with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and sharp-shooting Jodie Ebeling, who put up 17 points, gave Queen’s defensive fits all night. Furthermore, the Gaels couldn’t seem to find their range, shooting just 27 per cent from the field en route to a disappointing 68-37 loss.

One night later, the women took to the court again, this time hosting the defending OUA champion Guelph Gryphons. The Gaels got of to a slow start, and it looked like another long night for Coach Dave Wilson’s squad. Queen’s, it turned out, did not roll over so easily.

The Gaels rallied in the final ten minutes of the first half, entering the break with a 34-29 lead. Guelph, however, showed their experience in the second half and battled back to tie the game at 66-66 and force overtime.

The first four minutes of the extra frame were defined by high-pressure defence and some traded foul shots. With one minute remaining and the score knotted at 70 apiece, the window opened for a game-breaker, and Gaels’ second-year guard Jaime Dale calmly spotted up for three. The final tally was 75-70 in favour of Queen’s, who improved their season record to 2-1 with the upset.

Back to Friday. By 8 p.m. the stands were packed once again for the men’s home opener against a Brock squad who entered Bartlett Gym ranked second in the nation. First-year head coach Rob Smart was quick to deny the intimidation factor.

“[Brock] is a good team,” he said, “but we’ve played great teams already, so we came in treating it like any other game.”

With that approach, the Gaels exploded out of the gates, holding a 10-point lead with seven minutes left in the first half. However, the stellar execution and smothering defence with which Queen’s earned their lead began to fade and the experienced Badgers took advantage. Brock’s 6’8” center Kevin Stienstra—last season’s Provincial Player of the Year—began dominating the paint, helping his team to a 31-28 halftime lead.

The Gaels were resilient in the second half. Fourth-year center Neal Dawson was phenomenal on the glass, pulling down 15 rebounds to go along with his 12 points, seven assists and four blocks—a stat line that shows the increasing maturity of the once virtually unrecruited seven-footer’s game. The Gaels’ performance was also bolstered by two big three-pointers off the bench by Ryan Hairsine and the hard-nosed post defence of Glen Smith.

With momentum swinging back and forth constantly, the game went into overtime tied at 54. The extra period, however, exposed what had been the case all game.

“We lack that one natural scorer that Brock has in [point guard] Brad Rootes,” Smart said.

Rootes burned the Gaels in overtime, where he posted five of his game-high 28 points and two of his game-high five steals. With that, Brock spoiled the upset party, winning 64-59.

The next night against Guelph was not pretty for the Gaels, who fell to 0-2 on the season with a frustrating 54-28 loss. Queen’s struggled from the outset and was dominated on the boards all night. The Gaels had no players score in double figures and managed just 12 points as a team in the second half.

Looking ahead to another season in what is arguably the nation’s toughest league, Smart said he isn’t rushing to place expectations on his team.

“We can certainly be very successful,” he said. “But that means putting together complete games where we respond to other teams’ runs by finding ways to score and returning to fundamentals.”

The Gaels are already one of the nation’s top defensive teams.

“These kids are really working their butts off,” Smart said. “I’m hoping that we can pull this all together and be a very tough team.”

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