Hamilton, ON- As the fall exhibition slate opened for the McMaster Marauders men’s basketball team, they faced opponents of varying conferences with varying results.
The Marauders faced the Oregon Ducks in August and lost 97-82 in Toronto. The team then faced the Redeemer Royals in Ancaster and won 110-65. Then came last Friday night against the Laval Rouge et Or. Their first U Sports competition of the year.
Laval got out to an early lead and didn’t look back. The Rouge et Or led 19-10 after one quarter as the lead grew from there – all the way to 21 points.
The Rouge et Or outshot the Marauders from three (33.3 to 26.1 per cent) and from the field (50 to 40 per cent).
Laval scored inside, outside, in the half court and in transition. While the Marauders had their moments – a big steal and dunk by Sefa Otchere for instance – and some runs, they couldn’t make up the gap. Laval won 91-76.
“We’ve got to get better,” Marauders head coach Patrick Tatham noted. “We’ve got to play a little harder and we’ve got to have a sense of urgency.”
The Laval and Redeemer games also offered contrasting styles. Tatham described the Royals as a scrappier, smaller, quicker team – like the Marauders. He described the Rouge et Or as a strong, tall and physical one.
Laval guard Steeve Joseph had a game-high 32 points and 10 rebounds while forward Sidney Tremblay-Lacombe had 22 points and nine rebounds. The visitors out-rebounded McMaster 49-34.
Tatham said the team gave up a lot of interior finishes and second chance points. “It’s just not going to cut it against a team that’s very very physical that played way harder than us and they probably have a little bit more length than us,” he added.
So how does the team prepare against other physical opponents in the future? Second-year forward Ayres Culley-Bremner called it a mostly mental thing.
“You just can’t be scared,” he said. “You got to play…as if they’re not bigger than you or stronger than you.”
He pointed to the Oregon game as an example – where they responded to the Ducks’ physicality with their “dog mentality.” They had 43 rebounds to Oregon’s 51, with 20 offensive boards to the Ducks’ 19.
Against Laval, Culley-Bremner had six points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. He and first-year forward Brendan Amoyaw are the tallest players at 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-9.
Tatham said their adjustments will also come from watching the film. “Just being a little bit more physical and understanding our angles a little bit better,” he noted. “Being active on the ball rather than reacting when the ball gets into the post.”
One of the team’s strengths is their guard play. Last season, they were led by OUA all-star Jordan Henry, who led the team in points and assists.
Henry and guard Christian Bentley are now gone. The likes of Tristan Lindo, Aye Osunde, Sefa Otchere are key returning players along with guard/wing players Mychael Paulo and Mike Demagus.
“We’ve got a couple of guys certainly doing the job pretty well,” Culley-Bremner said of filling the point guard role. “It’s just about getting comfortable because most of these guys haven’t played this position at this level yet.”
The team had balanced scoring against Redeemer with five players with double figure points. Against Oregon, four players scored at least 15 points and against Laval, four players hit double digits.
Their veterans are making their mark so far this season. Third-year forward Nathan Charles had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) against Oregon. Fifth-year forward Khalil Miller led the team against Laval with 15 points as well as six rebounds and two assists. Otchere is averaging 12 points and three rebounds.
The newcomers have also made an impact. Amoyaw notched 10 points and six rebounds in six minutes against Redeemer. Guard Tyler Garcia scored his first McMaster points in that same game.
The most notable new addition is guard Cashius McNeilly. The Marauders have had their share of NCAA transfers (Paulo and Bentley for instance) and McNeilly is arguably the most prominent of them all. The Scarborough native was a highly-touted high school recruit who had played for Canada’s youth teams – including winning a bronze medal with the U-17 team.
His collegiate career has had many twists and turns. He committed to Texas A&M before a foot injury sidelined him. He medically redshirting the 2019-20 season. Then he transferred to TCU before transferring to Northern Oklahoma this past January. McNeilly helped the team win their conference regular season title before transferring to Pittsburgh.
Then, in late August, he de-committed from Pittsburgh and ended up at McMaster. “It was more so a gift that fell in our lap to be honest with you,” Tatham said.
He and Tatham had known each other since McNeilly was eight or nine years old. He also knew some of the McMaster players. He reached out to Tatham. “I think it was the best fit for him once he said he was staying home,” Tatham noted.
McNeilly has made a splash so far – leading the team with 23 points in 16 minutes against the Royals (including shooting five-for-five from three). In his home debut, he finished with 11 points and three rebounds.
Culley-Bremner called him a good shooter and a patient player. “Good decision-making skills…he’s always in the right place,” he added.
Tatham said McNeilly is still trying to figure some things out, having arrived at school only three or four weeks ago. “He elevates our offensive power, our defensive power and our IQ, our basketball IQ,” he noted.
While McNeilly continues to figure things out, so do the Marauders. Culley-Bremner said the team needs to work on defensive communication, rebounding and moving the basketball. “We know we can move the ball,” he said.
For a new team starting a new season, the preseason is also a time to get used to the flow of the game with new players and a new team, according to him. The Marauders still have six exhibition matches to do so – including games against 2022 nationals teams Carleton and Victoria in the House-Laughton tournament in Ottawa.
Back in the Burridge Gym in Hamilton, Tatham said the team has a lot of technical things to get better at after losing to Laval. He also has another big takeaway for his team.
“The only thing I want our guys to focus on is taking a little bit more pride on our home court,” he said. “Can’t give up so many points on our home court and we have to come with a sense of urgency every time.”
Featured Image: Rick Zazulak/McMaster Athletics