Concordia 90, UQAM 85: Stingers Men’s Basketball Staples Season Opener With Win
Olivier Simon Explodes For Career-High 35 Points Against Citadins
Yesterday’s gripping clash at the John Dore gymnasium set the tone for more red-hot university basketball this winter. As both teams battled it out in front of a full crowd, the Stingers made it clear: the defending champions are ready.
The last meeting between the two teams must have left a sour taste in the mouths of UQAM’s Citadins. Concordia’s Stingers — defending champions — and head coach Rastko Popovic know that other teams in the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec are hungry for what’s theirs. But the titleholders have proved that they won’t be giving it up easily.
In the first quarter, UQAM’s hungriness couldn’t be more evident. Led by last year’s U Sports Rookie of the year Alix Lochard, UQAM came out firing, with his team outscoring Concordia 24-15 in the opening frame.
Expanding his game away from the paint, the 6’7 forward knocked down two three’s, contributing to 12 of his side’s first 24 points.
Heading into the second quarter, the Stingers slowly got momentum going and tightened things up defensively. As the lead trimmed, and Concordia weathered the storm, head coach Popovic explained what led to the turnaround.
“I thought guys stuck to the game plan, they executed. We didn’t get rattled,” he said.
As UQAM prefers to keep relentless pressure on its adversaries all game, the Stingers countered this tactic with more aggressiveness, while staying composed, which gave them the lead at 38-36 with 1:45 left in the half.
While Lochard made the difference for les Citadins in the first, Concordia’s Olivier Simon erupted for 20 first half points, going 8/8 from the free throw line.
The fourth-year forward put on a show all game, finishing tough buckets in the paint and at the rim, where he and Lochard wrestled tirelessly on both ends of the floor. Simon’s career night—35 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks—is one he’ll appreciate but this game was more about making a statement.
“I know [Lochard] is one of the best bigs in this league and I knew that if I wanted to match his intensity I just had to go hard, go to the offensive rebounds, set good screens, ask for the ball, play good defence,” he said. “I just went out there, I just had fun for real. It’s satisfying to seal the W.”
With Concordia outscoring UQAM 23-14 in the second, both teams were even at 38 heading into the half.
“I’m really really proud of our effort. 40 minutes of effort. We made a lot of mistakes but our effort and our compete level was amazing today.”— Rastko Popovic
In the third, despite the Stingers at times looking more like they would blow the game wide open, UQAM’s feistiness and stingy defence not only kept them in the game but forced 27 turnovers—an aspect coach Popovic wants his team to focus on.
“I think we just tried to rush it,” he said.
“If you come to a stop, you get five seconds to make a decision, you don’t have to just get rid of the ball. It’s small details like this but that’s what their pressure does.”
However, the closest UQAM would get was in the fourth quarter. With Concordia up 73-72, first-year guard Ali White scored three straight baskets to push the lead to 79-74.
Breaking through with 16 second half points, White was a force on defence and mentions that defence is the way to go to close out teams.
“I try to do it all but defence wins games. I try to be better on defence because that’s what our team needs to win, so once we be better on defense, like offence is gonna come naturally cause everyone on our team can score,” said White.
“As long as I try to bring that energy on defence then my team will do the rest on offence.”
As the game ended 90-85 for Concordia, the defending champions have now beaten UQAM four times since last season, with the last three matchups decided by five points or less.
As a little rivalry may soon be building up between the two teams, it’s clear that the next meeting should be marked down for players and fans. At the moment, coach Popovic is making sure his young squad embraces the good start.
“I’m really really proud of our effort. 40 minutes of effort. We made a lot of mistakes but our effort and our compete level was amazing today.”
“Game 1, we did a lot of good stuff but we still got a lot to prove,” he finished.
The Stingers will face Bishop’s University at home on Nov. 14 at 8 p.m.
A previous version of this article stated that Olivier Simon is a fifth-year forward. In fact, he is a fourth-year forward. The Link regrets this error.