LENNOXVILLE, Que — Jona Bermillo and Majid Naji tallied 18 points apiece as the fourth-seeded Bishop’s Gaiters upset top=seeded McGill 68-63 to claim the RSEQ men’s basketball championship before a raucous, standing room only crowd of 1,073 at the Mitchell gymnasium, Saturday.
It dethroned the two-time defending champions from McGill, gave the Gaiters their first RSEQ conference title since 1999 and punched their ticket to the 2015 CIS Final Eight tournament, set for March 12-15 at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre, site of the former Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. It also marked the first championship for Bishop’s head coach Rod Gilpin, since taking over the program in 2008.
The crowd seemed to help the Gaiters off to a fast start as they turned an 18-17 first quarter lead into a 37-29 advantage at halftime. The Bishop’s kicked it into high gear, building up a stunning 55-35 lead with 2:24 left in the third frame.
McGill however, refused to give in and started to chip away, reducing the deficit to 55-45 after the third stanza and eventually tying the contest at 60-60 with 2:46 remaining.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys,” said McGill head coach David DeAveiro, who has guided hss troops to a 90-53 record against CIS opponents since taking over the helm five years ago. “They have a never quit attitude. It would have been easy for us to fold our tents and go home but that’s not who we are and that’s not our character.”
It was almost déjà vu for Bishop’s who will never forget watching in horror as a 15-point lead evaporated against McGill in the dying minutes of the 2013 RSEQ final.
Bermillo had different plans this time around as his three-pointer with 2:33 left put the Gaiters back on top at 63-60 but McGill answered immediately with a trey from rookie Noah Daoust to even the game at 63-63.
With 80 seconds remaining, Mike Andrew went 1-for-2 at the line to put BU up 64-63, then Bermillio hit a trey with 39 seconds left to seal McGill’s fate. Forced to foul Naji in the dying seconds, he responded with two perfect free-throws to close out the scoring.
“We had a chance to win unfortunately the ball didn’t drop for us at the end,” added DeAverio. “Bishop’s made some big plays and Bermillio was exceptional tonight. This is a game of making shots and they were better at that than us tonight.”
Bermillio went 6-for-11 from the field including a 4-for-7 performance from downtown. He added two from the charity stripe and also contributed four rebounds and four assists.
Naji shot a cool 7-of-9 himself and snagged eight rebounds. Seniors Mike Andrews and Kyle Desmarais also reached double figures for the Gaiters scoring 15 and 10, respectively.
Leading the way for McGill was freshman Noah Daoust, who was named player of the game. He came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points and grab eight rebounds.
Jenning Leung, another freshman, also impressed with 15 points, six assists and four steals. Team captain Vincent Dufort was the only other Redmen to reach double-digits. He tailed 14 points, pulled down six boards and added three assists.
McGill lost despite holding an 11-3 margin in steals and a 19-10 advantage turnovers, matching a season best for fewest miscues. What proved costly was that they shot 38.1 per cent from the floor (24/63), sunk only 8 of 30 treys and went 7-for-13 from the line.
“We weren’t hitting shots but we also weren’t defending early,” noted DeAveiro, whose dress roster was composed of three seniors, one junior, five sophomores and one freshman. “That team has four fifth-year guys and their experience really showed tonight.”
McGill is expecting to lose two graduating seniors — point-guard Ave Bross (sociology) and forward Rodrigo Imperador (education).
The Gaiters, who had a 42-33 edge in rebounds, shot 47.3 from the field, 42.9 from beyond the arc and made 10 of 17 freebies.
REDMEN RAP: McGill finished up with an 18-16 record overall, including an 18-12 mark against CIS opponents and an 11-5 first-place finish in the conference. The Redmen, who only averaged 64.8 points per game (which ranked 45th out of 47 teams), finished with the second-best defence in the nation, allowing a stingy 59.3 points per game. They also ranked second in rebounding with an average of 44.2 per game.