Hamilton, ON- Despite winning five games in a row (and six of their past seven games), the road didn’t come without challenges for the McMaster Marauders men’s basketball team.
They had weathered the storm of their tough schedule from the start of the season. They had guards Johnny Kitenge and Cashius McNeilly back in the lineup. They were now facing the Laurentian Voyageurs and the Nipissing Lakers at home on Jan. 13 and 14. – a chance to rack up two more wins.
The victories didn’t come easy though. Laurentian went with a smaller lineup – causing problems for McMaster’s bigs. “This game felt like it was more guards,” Marauders head coach Patrick Tatham noted. “Lots of switching.”
The Voyageurs made their shots early, trailing 24-20 after the first quarter before winning the second 15-11. Caillou Lacroix, Gaëtan Chamand and Cedric Mbiaba were scoring. Their offence continued to roll as they shot 62.5 per cent from the field in the third quarter. McNeilly pointed out how aggressive Laurentian played.
Meanwhile, the home team responded by going to their guards as well. McMaster’s four leading scorers – Mychael Paulo (19 points), Mike Demagus (16), McNeilly (14) and Tristan Lindo (10) – are all guards.
As the game stayed close late in the fourth, Paulo and Demagus made some key plays. They each hit a three and scored inside as well to help McMaster win 83-77.
Tatham pointed out Paulo, Demagus, McNeilly and forward Khalil Miller. “We’re hoping that those guys can help us score and get us going every single night,” he noted.
The players did so against Laurentian. However, the team only shot 20.8 per cent from deep. That changed in the following game against Nipissing as they shot 33.3 per cent.
Against the Lakers, the Marauders started off hot, getting out to a 26-11 lead after 10 minutes. The three-pointers were falling, the ball was moving and the players and crowd was celebrating.
One difference between the games was that they paid attention to the scouting report, according to McNeilly and Tatham. They didn’t quite do so against Laurentian – and it showed, according to Tatham. They did so against Nipissing.
“You need to know personnel,” Tatham added. “You should know what one guy wants to do, more than another guy wants to do this…I thought the guys really understood the scouting report to a tee, especially on a short turnaround.”
That understanding of their scouting report was evident as they held Nipissing to 15 per cent shooting in the first quarter and 29.4 per cent in the second. On the other end, the ball was humming as McMaster’s players dished it around. That led to the three-pointers. The team finished with 22 assists.
“I think we were all shooting very well. We were sharing the ball,” McNeilly noted. “First possession we came out, it was pass, pass, pass, score. I think the biggest thing on scoring threes was we were unselfish. That’s why we made threes.”
McNeilly said the biggest thing is trusting each other and making the extra pass. He added that they work on a lot of shooting and transition drills during practice.
McNeilly himself sank four of his nine three-pointers after going zero-for-six the previous evening. He also scored in both games by pushing the ball in transition, making plays and getting to the rim.
“So long as he sees the ball going through the hoop, it just gives him more confidence and feeling good,” Tatham said after the Laurentian game. “I’m happy for him. This is a good one for him.”
It’s his third game coming off an injury that’s sidelined him since October. He played in the preseason and has slid into the starting lineup in his return. McNeilly notched five points and six rebounds in his regular season debut against Ontario Tech.
“My hand’s not been giving me any problems,” he said. “Just shooting-wise, I just got to get my rhythm back. These games right here are good for me to get back into it.”
The Scarborough native was cheered on by friends and family in the stands. He met up with them afterwards as well. After a few years down south, the highly-touted high school recruit is back in Ontario playing for a coach he’s known since he was eight years old and with teammates he’s known from before as well.
“It feels good because I’ve been away from home for a minute,” McNeilly said. “Now I’m back. I’m playing in front of them. At least they get to watch me play. It just feels amazing.”
Featured Image: Kevin Lassel/McMaster Athletics