In a gauntlet of four games against NCAA Division I competition in less than a week, the Gee-Gees men's basketball showed plenty of firepower, but also room for improvement against high-quality opponents.
With two games at Montpetit Hall and two at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal, the team was able to simulate preparation for regular season games. During the series, the Gee-Gees were tested heavily by programs with winning traditions and athletic abilities that tested the team's young roster.
In Sunday's loss to Cincinnati, the Gee-Gees saw their first game action and were immediately put to the test against a top 10 ranked team in the nation. It was the production of some new faces that showed promise going forward. Kevin Civil (5 pts, 6 ast), Guillaume Pépin (4 pts), Quinton Hamilton (4 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast), and Olivier Cadieux (3 pts), made their Gee-Gees debuts and showed their upside as they mesh in the Gee-Gees system.
In Thursday's game against Ole Miss, it was the team's nine three-pointers in the first quarter that showed the elite-level scoring potential as they built a 27-point lead on the Rebels. Ultimately, it was the depth and size of their opponent that was the Gee-Gees' downfall in a scrappy 85-74 loss at Montpetit Hall. Civil had a breakout performance for the Gee-Gees and established himself as a contender for Rookie of the Year awards, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and two steals in his second game in garnet and grey.
In Friday night's game in Montreal against Vermont, the Gee-Gees matched up against a very similar playing style to their own and ultimately were unable to match the Catamounts aggression, which resulted in a 81-55 loss. The game, played at Pépin's former high school and Cégep, was a coming out performance for the 6-6 forward as he led the Gee-Gees with 12 points on the night.
In the fourth and final matchup on Saturday night, the Gee-Gees faced off against an inspired South Dakota State team that had been in the NCAA Tournament just five months prior. In a back-and-forth game, the teams traded the lead 12 times, however with the Gee-Gees were on the wrong side of a 93-77 result at Montpetit Hall.
After securing a slim two-point led heading into halftime on a clutch Quinton Hamilton three, the Gee-Gees were unable to get offensive pressure needed in the paint to close out the game. Fifth-year guard Brandon Robinson posted 20 points, followed by an 18-point performance from third-year guard Gage Sabean. While the veterans led the pack, newcomers Pépin (11 pts, 5 reb), Civil (11 pts, 4 reb, 4 stl), and Hamilton (7 pts, 3 reb) all turned in solid performances.
After graduating three high-efficiency forwards in Jean Emmanuel Pierre-Charles, Brody Maracle, and Kenny Jean-Louis, the team is looking to form a new identity around a different style of play. While these NCAA exhibition games are key for learning the tools the team has, the reality is that there is plenty of time and development that is yet to come before the opening of the U SPORTS preseason and the OUA regular season at the end of October.
"Division I teams expose all of your weaknesses. There's no better measurement than playing against that level of competition," said Robinson. "Right now, we have a lot of new additions and young guys, so we're still trying to figure out how we play. In my first year, I was able to sit back an learn, but these guys are in the fire and have to figure it out faster than everyone else."
As the series drew to a close, it was evident that the games were a useful and illuminating testing ground for the new-look team. Without the immediate services of Sean Stoqua and Alex Muise, both either recovering from or nursing injuries before returning to the lineup, the team is still finding an identity with pieces yet to develop.
"The guys have to get used to playing with each other, we're playing a completely different style of basketball than we have the last few years," said head coach James Derouin. "We have to understand intelligent basketball on both ends of the floor. We have to know what we're supposed to do and what is expected. There's work to do, but we have two months to drill that home as we get ready for the season."
In the coming weeks, an announcement of the team's pre-season opponents will be released as the Gee-Gees gear up for the 2018-19 regular season.