UQAM 78, Concordia 74: Tenacious Citadins Squeeze out Men’s Basketball Win Against Bruised Stingers
Stingers Freshman Aleksa Popadic Carries Offensive Load With 22 Team-High Points
After breaking their 11 month winless drought against the Stingers last Wednesday, UQAM’s Citadins hoped two wins in a week against Concordia would be a reality.
Getting past the Stingers at John Dore Gym needed a complete effort, one that brought out an unlikely man of the match for Concordia on Saturday afternoon.
“We have a lot of problems in our team right now [..],” said 6’8” forward Aleksa Popadic, who played a career-high 23 minutes despite the loss.
“A few other players are out, so this game was a good opportunity for me and Sami Jahan to show what we can do. I think I used the minutes well and I’m happy,” Popadic smiled.
Losing all-star guard and second leading scorer Adrian Armstrong to injury last game, the Stingers seem to understand their vulnerability on the offensive end.
However, les Citadins had no plans on taking their foot off the gas as they controlled the first quarter 23-17, 14 of which coming from their big man Alix Lochard.
Lochard’s presence and toughness in the post can be a matchup nightmare for teams, but Stingers forward Olivier Simon—who had 24 points in Wednesday night’s losing game—lives for this battle against Lochard.
Lochard was able to get the upper hand early, getting Simon into foul trouble and forcing Concordia’s reliable weapon to sit for most of the half, which UQAM capitalized on.
Les Citadins were led by forward Frantson Demosthene and Lochard who combined for 51 points.
UQAM’s head coach, Mario Joseph, understands the importance of grinding out two wins against Concordia in the new year as seeding for the Réseau du Sport Étudiant playoffs is crucial.
“We’re continuing to build on our wins. Both teams are hurt but our ultimate goal is in March,” he said.
“Only one team gets to compete at Nationals and we have to be able to improve every game.”
While UQAM seized the opportunity to even out the regular season series at two games apiece last week, the game was tight until the last five minutes of the game.
The bruised up Stingers dominated the second quarter, outscoring les Citadins 22-13.
First-year player Aleksa Popadic and forward Aleks Simeunovic were lethal on offence. Simeunovic ignited the crowd with his low post moves, while Popadic showed his stroke from outside, going three of five from beyond the arc and a perfect five for five from the line.
Assistant coach Damian Buckley had appreciating words for his players, who came up big in the clutch when they needed to.
“We had Alex and Aleksa who came in and played a lot of minutes off the bench,,” he said.
“Aleksa was spreading the floor with his length. He was down hitting down shots, he was grabbing rebounds. So I think the energy from our bench guys, especially those two guys really propelled us to a good second quarter.”
In the third, the Stingers enjoyed their largest lead of the game up 53-44 at the 3:46 minute mark. Both teams scored 21 points in the quarter and left it all on the line: hustling and diving for loose balls, creating second chances and most importantly fueling the fire to an already intense rivalry.
Concordia’s Sami Ghandour also made notable contributions in the game, finishing with a double-double scoring 11 points and 13 rebounds. Heading into the fourth, UQAM reduced the deficit to three points, down 60-57.
Working from behind in the fourth, les Citadins worked their way back in the game, just like they did last Wednesday night. Lochard again, was a key factor in the comeback but this time it was his teammate Karim Sabban who propelled them to victory, nailing two straight jumpers to give UQAM the lead at 69-67 with 4:06 left in the game.
Stingers assistant coach Buckley knows his side let one slip away late, describing UQAM’s style of play at the end of the game.
“UQAM’s identity is that never quit identity, so when it gets down to the fourth quarter and they see that time is running down, that’s when they amp up the pressure, they amp the intensity they talk more, they communicate more,” he said. “They’re a great fourth quarter team in that sense so I think we were very careless with the basketball.”
From there, there was little time for the Stingers to muster up some offence. As the clock hit 0, UQAM had gained two big points in the standings, tying Concordia’s eight. The Stingers still hold second place by way of points against but UQAM remains a threat.
Concordia will look to take advantage of a much needed bye week this week to regain energy and get some rest. Buckley explains that the focus at the moment is to get healthy and prepare for their next opponent. The Stingers return to the floor Jan. 23 at home, as they face their crosstown rival and first place team McGill.