Edmonton, AB – A beautiful aspect of sports is the ability to create pressure in ways we might not expect.
The consolation semifinals, on the surface, are not a pressure-filled situation but rather the opposite. By all accounts, the four teams that participate in the two consolation games are playing for pride and for nothing more than the opportunity to potentially leave the Final 8 with a win in the fifth-place game.
Yet that seeming lack of stakes creates pressure.
Each team had pressure in the second consolation semifinal game between the #2 Victoria Vikes and the #6 McGill Redbirds. Each team had something to prove, and across 40 minutes at the Saville Centre, each team made a different statement about their season.
For the Redbirds, the stakes were pretty obvious. With “RESQ vs the Rest” on their warmup shirts, the best team in Quebec deserved to be in the Final 8. Only a nightmare second quarter against the Canada West finalist Alberta Golden Bears kept them from the Final Four as they outscored Alberta across the rest of the game.
The Vikes faced a different set of pressure. Perhaps it could have been expected that they would fall to the Carleton Ravens in the quarterfinal, but it left them wanting more to prove that they were truly worthy of that #2 spot after an upset victory over Alberta in the Canada West final.
Two teams with different pressures, and once the ball tipped off just after 3 pm mountain time from the Saville Centre, two teams who played with urgency from start to finish.
The Vikes struck early as a pair of Scott Kellum threes helped Victoria to a 10-2 run to start the game. Just as Victoria stepped forward, McGill followed them in lockstep as an 11-4 run got the game back to 14-13. After the frustration of having a one-quarter collapse cost them their quarterfinal against Alberta, McGill was ready to fight from the start.
“We had a lot of energy coming in at the beginning; that loss yesterday we took to Alberta really sparked a fire behind our backsides.” Jamal Mayali said.
A pair of late threes from Canada West MBB Rookie of the Year Elias Ralph and Diego Maffia got the Vikes up to 20-13, where it held after one quarter.
It was somewhat of a redemption game of sort for Diego Maffia. The second-year guard struggled his way to 18 points in the Vikes 94-77 loss to Carleton as he went 4-16 from beyond the arc. He finished the afternoon against McGill with 14 points on 4-11 shooting from three-point range.
“My motto is never to stop shooting no matter what, whether I have two points or twenty points,” Maffia said.
On the other side, Redbirds’ offence on the afternoon, just as it had done for so many nights before, ran straight through the hands of Jamal Mayali
It was another standout performance for Mayali. The fifth-year guard who led the Redbirds in scoring across the RSEQ regular season and dropped 31 in the Redbirds’ 85-68 quarterfinal loss to Alberta dropped 10 in the first quarter on the way to 31 on the game for the Redbirds as he tried to will his team to Sunday.
“Jamal’s just a big shotmaker,” McGill head coach Ryan Thorne said. “It’s tough because we put him in situations where he’s gotta bail us out, and he does a great job of that.”
As the clock closed in on halftime, the Vikes were in control. With 40 seconds left, Elias Ralph sent an alley-oop that Sergio Pereira slammed down, giving the Vikes a 39-29 lead that they took into the recess.
The Redbirds refused to go away, though. After a Matt Ellis three-pointer made it 48-36 with 5:55 to go, the Redbirds went on an 11-1 run, with eight straight points from Jamal Mayali before Sydney Gauthier finished off a perfect passing play with a corner three that made it a 49-47 game with 3:36 left in the third.
“I was proud of the guys; we dug ourselves once again into a bit of a hole, battled back out of it, back to about a two-point game,” Thorne said.
As the game ticked down, it became a bit of a duel between Maffia and Mayali. With under three minutes to play and the game at 69-63 for Victoria, Maffia hit a contested three to push the Vikes’ lead up to nine.
Mayali went back down the court and nailed a three of his own to bring it back to 72-66. Despite his best efforts, though, Mayali couldn’t get the Redbirds all the way back, and the Vikes took the game 77-68.
“It was a chippy game, but I think together we fought through it and battled it out,” Maffia said.
The loss ends a season for the Redbirds that saw the program reach new heights with a 14-0 record through the RSEQ regular season. The Redbirds may not have been able to prove what they wanted to in Edmonton, but it doesn’t mean they have anything less to be proud of.
“It’s easy to hang your heads and think of what could have been and overlook what really was,” Thorne said. “There’s a lot to be proud of.”
The Vikes move on to play the #4 Dalhousie Tigers in the fifth-place game after Dalhousie took a 90-77 win over the Brock Badgers in the first consolation semifinal. A potential fifth-place finish may not have been what the program envisioned as “proving themselves” after winning their 16th Canada West title in 2022, but as Maffia acknowledged, they get one more game to play together.
“We’re excited to play another game, just another game for all of us to play together.”