Hamilton, ON- Midway through the third quarter of their home opener, the McMaster Marauders were at risk of starting the season with three straight losses.
The Marauders men’s basketball team was trailing the York Lions in the second half of their home opener on Nov. 11 when they made a run to pull away for an 89-61 victory and their first regular season win of the year.
Their opening stretch of the season hasn’t been easy. They lost their season opener to the Ottawa Gee-Gees 97-67. McMaster head coach Patrick Tatham pointed out their 24 turnovers. “So not aggressive in the Ottawa game,” he noted.
They took better care of the ball against the Carleton Ravens – turning it over 10 times – and came close to taking the win. They led the Ravens up until two minutes into the fourth quarter. Carleton went on a 20-2 run to close out the game.
The team scored only five points in the fourth quarter. There was a lot of shooting after just one pass on their offensive possessions. “We didn’t really trust the extra pass,” Tatham said. “That was pretty much talked about this entire week, trusting each other.”
McMaster leaned on that trust against York. Their shots weren’t falling – from in the paint, beyond the arc and at the free throw line. Meanwhile, York outshot them 44.4 to 20 per cent from the field and 42.9 to 20 per cent from three in the first quarter.
“Trust everything. Trust the extra pass,” Tatham told his team. “Trust that it will start to fall at some point in time and just be consistent getting to the rim and getting to their free throw line.”
The home team trailed 22-15 after 10 minutes but outscored their opponents 20-9 in the second quarter. As the third quarter went on, York kept hitting their shots and making plays. McMaster turned to forward Khalil Miller.
Miller scored in the paint and grabbed some key rebounds. He finished with 17 points, 19 rebounds and six blocks.
Khalil’s ability to protect the rim was amazing for us today,” Tatham said. “He altered a ton of shots. He protected the rim but he also rebounded the heck out of the ball and kept us on that like one and done defensive mentality.”
The mentality focuses on reducing the other team’s offensive rebounds. McMaster had 44 total rebounds to York’s 41 and nine offensive boards to York’s eight. They outscored the Lions 23-16 in the third quarter and 31-14 in the fourth.
“We knew we couldn’t lose on our home court,” Miller said. “So we had to get it done tonight.”
For Miller, it’s the first season playing for McMaster since transferring from Seneca College. The Scarborough native won a CCAA national title in 2018 as well as the OCAA East Division Defensive Player of the Year award. He was also named a CCAA All-Canadian.
“I felt like I needed to move up another level,” Miller said. He called the U SPORTS “a different ballgame” to the CCAA and said he loves it.
Tatham said Miller had a good preseason and has continued to grow into his role. “He’s kind of finding out what he does best for this team,” he said. “So far, his numbers have been very good in terms of his percentages and his analytics, so he’s very important to us on the court.”
After three regular season games, Miller is third on the team with an average of 8.3 points and leads the team with 10.7 rebounds per game. He also leads the team with eight total blocks. His points and rebounds against York were career-highs with McMaster.
As the Marauders were making their second half run, Miller said the key was trusting each other.
Their trust paid off as Mike Demagus (24 points, six rebounds, three assists), Mychael Paulo (15 points, four assists, two steals) and Sefa Otchere (eight points, five rebounds, two steals) also had notable performances. First-year point guard Tyler Garcia made his impact with six assists and a timely steal and block – leading to loud applause from the crowd at the Burridge Gym.
“Definitely a pit bull today on defence,” Tatham called Garcia. “He kind of sparked the bench. He sparked everyone on the court and he actually sparked the entire crowd. He made it very eventful and fun for us on defence and on offence.”
Once the game ended, the Marauders players celebrated with their families and friends on the court.
It’s the start of a tough stretch of games. They host the defending OUA finalist Queen’s Gaels on Nov. 13. Then they host the defending OUA champion Brock Badgers and a strong TMU side. Then they hit the road for two games against a strong Lakehead team. All in the month of November.
Tatham talked about getting through the “storm” in November to peak at the right time by January and February.
“This first half is going to be a really good test for us,” he noted. “It’s just going to get better as we go along through film and playing on our home court.”
Featured Image: Marisa Settimi/McMaster Athletics