Valiant effort comes up short

Men’s basketball loses to Varsity Blues despite 29-27 halftime lead

Not many expected a playoff run from the men’s basketball team. The Gaels won only one of their last 11 regular-season games after losing star forward Mitch Leger to injury and limped into the last OUA playoff spot on the final day of the season. To make matters worse, their first-round game Wednesday night sent them on the road to face the third-seeded University of Toronto Varsity Blues, whose 15-7 record was a mirror image of the Gaels’ season mark. Queen’s came out strong, though, and took a 29-27 lead into halftime before the Blues bounced back to end the Gaels’ season with a 63-48 victory.

Assistant coach Duncan Cowan said the Gaels played well defensively, but their offence wasn’t clicking.

“Defensively we had a really good effort, but we needed to score more and we weren’t able to do that,” he said.

Ahmed Nazmi shone for the Blues, recording a game-high 14 points and adding 11 rebounds. Forward Rob Shaw led Queen’s with 12 points, guard Baris Ondul added nine points and five rebounds and guard Dan Bannister chipped in another seven points.

Cowan said the Gaels succeeded offensively in the first half before the Varsity Blues picked up on their strategies and forced them into taking tougher shots.

“Toronto didn’t defend really well against certain parts of our offence, so we got a lot of lay-ups in the first half and hit a fair percentage of our open shots,” he said.

Cowan said the team was still creating good offensive chances in the second half after Toronto switched to a tighter defence down low, but they couldn’t sink their shots.

“The bottom line was we defended well for 40 minutes, but we just couldn’t score in the second half,” he said. “Toronto adjusted and did a better job of taking away the easy stuff, so we had to shoot more jump shots and we just didn’t shoot the percentage we needed to.”

Cowan said Leger’s absence has enabled opponents to play tighter defence on Queen’s outside shooters, because they don’t have to worry about his presence down low.

“That’s kind of the thing that’s plagued us for the whole second half since Mitch left,” he said. “Every shot has been a little more contested for other guys while Mitch isn’t on the floor. … The problem was he was really our only match-up guy in the post. When we lost that, we just didn’t have a guy who could go to the block and score consistently.”

Cowan said the Gaels’ offensive schemes were sound, but they didn’t have the personnel to run them after Leger’s injury.

“We’re not deep enough,” he said. “It’s not that the system was necessarily flawed, it’s just that we didn’t have the guys to execute it.”

Cowan said Leger’s injury made a tough season even harder. In the spring, the Gaels lost veteran guard Simon Mitchell to graduation and first-year forward Travis Mitchell, who left to pursue animation studies at Sheridan College. In the fall, second-year forward Jon Ogden left the team for personal reasons.

“Losing the Mitchell brothers was obviously going to be a big hit,” he said. “In the pre-season, we played strongly and we beat some good teams; we beat Toronto by 20 with Mitch and Jon Ogden in the line-up.”

Cowan said there’s extra pressure on the team to recruit well this year thanks to their poor performance this season. He said the team’s focus in the off-season will be to bring in a strong group of recruits and then tailor their system to the players.

“The personnel will kind of dictate whether we have to make significant changes to what

we do.”

Cowan said adding size will be a priority in the off-season, but it’s not going to be easy because of the demand for talented forwards.

“They’re few and far between,” he said.

Cowan said one potential addition is local product Owen Klassen, a highly-coveted 6’8’’ forward from Bayridge High.

“He’s getting serious interest from everywhere in Canada, but I think Carleton, Western and ourselves are kind of the main candidates,” Cowan said.

The Gaels already have one star recruit lined up in transfer Ozren Opacic, a 6’6’’ guard who previously played for the Ryerson Rams and sat out this year while practicing with Queen’s. Cowan said Opacic will be a key addition to the team.

“He’s very, very talented,” Cowan said.

Cowan said a good recruiting year could turn the Gaels’ fortunes around quickly.

“If we can add another two or three [players] through recruiting, I think we can be competitive right away.”

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