The Gee-Gees men's basketball team is set to chase a National Championship in front of their home fans at TD Place this week.
The 2020 U SPORTS National Championship runs from Thursday, March 5 to Sunday, March 8 at TD Place and the Ravens' Nest in Ottawa. Both the men's and women's tournaments are being held in the Nation's Capital.
The Gee-Gees are set to face the No. 2-ranked Dalhousie Tigers in the first round of the tournament. Tip-off is at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, March 6 at TD Place.
The Gee-Gees have already experienced a taste of basketball at TD Place with a full house, when they defeated the Carleton Ravens 75-77 on February 7 as part of the Capital Hoops Classic.
"The venue makes it difficult for outside shooting, things of that nature that teams now really depend on," said Gee-Gees head coach James Derouin. "Which makes for more of an inside rebounding type defensive battle. Some of it is the pace, but a lot of it is just really good defence in a tougher environment in order to score.
"It's a unique environment. Getting as many reps as you can get in this facility, the guys are looking around and getting used to it. It's a huge benefit," he added.
The Garnet and Grey turned in a solid regular season, with their 18-4 record being the second-best in the OUA. They closed out their regular season on a six-game winning streak and continued their hot run into the playoffs, stunning the Ryerson Rams 75-54 in the OUA quarterfinals at Montpetit Hall.
Fifth year point guard Calvin Epistola led the team with 19 points-per-game and earned his 1,000th career point during the season. Forward Guillaume Pépin and guard Kevin Civil also averaged double digits at 14.7 and 12.0 points-per-game, respectively.
Ottawa was never afraid to fire from range, as their 30.6 three-point attempts-per-game in the regular season was the most in the conference. They also averaged the most offensive boards, with 14.7 per game.
"The identity of this team and their toughness," Derouin said on what impresses him most of this year's team. "Our freshmen, Tommy [Chilton], Charles-Antoine, and Dragan [Stajic]. And our young players, Guillaume and Kevin. Those are five guys in their first and second year that are a big part of our team.
"The identity when you watch our team play, it's different than the other years I've coached. They're tougher, they defend, they rebound, they're bigger. There's a lot of grit to this team and it's a lot of fun to coach them, they play hard every night," he said.
The Gee-Gees will have their hands full in the first round, as the Dalhousie Tigers dominated their AUS competition this season, en route to a 19-1 record. The Tigers won their fifth conference championship in the last six years, topping StFX 76-64.
Keevan Veinot will be the player to watch for the Tigers. The guard led the team with 15.6 points-per-game and just over five assists-per-game while being named conference MVP. Fellow guard Xavier Ochu was named the AUS Defensive Player of the Year.
Ottawa and Dalhousie are the only two programs at the 2020 Final 8 that have yet to win the National Championship. Five of the eight teams haven't won this millennium, with No. 3-ranked UBC owning the longest draught – their last championship came in 1972.
The Gee-Gees were given an automatic berth to the Final 8 as hosts and are ranked as the No. 7 seed. The team's 18-4 regular season record included a dramatic victory over the then-undefeated Carleton Ravens. They remain the only team in the country to beat the defending champions this year.
The Ravens got their revenge on the Gee-Gees in the OUA semifinals, thumping them 96-61 at the Ravens Nest. Ottawa were without the services of senior guards Epistola and Sean Stoqua that game.
Visit TDplace.ca for tickets. Stream the game online at CBCSports.ca, CBC Gem or the CBC Sports App. Follow @GeeGeesMBB on Twitter for live in-game updates.