Citadins’ journey comes full circle with Consolation Finals win over Gaels 

Halifax, NS- It all came full circle for the UQAM Citadins men’s basketball team. 

The Citadins lost to the Queen’s Gaels 84-73 back on Oct. 1 – their first U SPORTS game of the season (they lost to University of Vermont before that). It was an 84-73 defeat that day for them. The start of their journey.

Fast forward over five months later, it was UQAM celebrating the win at this point in their journey. The Citadins kept the game close while taking the lead at multiple times. It was good enough for a 89-85 victory in the men’s basketball Final 8 Consolation Finals. 

UQAM’s offence was spread out with five players scoring at least 13 points. Karl-Tommy Laforest led this squad with 10 rebounds despite them being out-rebounded 49-36. 

After not winning a game in their two previous nationals appearances, the Citadins have won twice. They also came close to knocking off the defending champion Carleton Ravens as well in the quarterfinals. 

There’s a momentum about that. A respect factor as well. 

“I think the way we played the last two games show we belong with the top teams in the country,” Citadins head coach Mario Joseph noted. 

The impact of this season and this nationals experience can be felt in different ways. It’s a build-up for next year, Joseph pointed out – culturally, recruiting-wise and more. Laforest pointed out how their identity for this season was about heart and defence. 

The team has another positive up their sleeves: they should have everybody back, according to Joseph. Also, next year’s nationals will be in Quebec with the Laval Rouge et Or as the host. 

“It would mean the world,” Joseph said. “[To win] first championship at home would be something great…but it’s step-by-step right. You can’t jump to nationals.” 

Queen’s David Ayon played at nationals in his rookie season (Photo: Trevor MacMillan/Dalhousie Athletics/U SPORTS)

As next year’s UQAM team begins their journey towards nationals, so will the Gaels. It’s their second-ever Final 8 appearance – in back-to-back years. 

Like the Citadins, the Gaels bring almost everyone back with only senior forward Connor Keefe departing. Queen’s head coach Steph Barrie said there will be time for reflection in the future once they return to Kingston. He called the end of the season his favourite time of the year because of that reflection.

Barrie said he’s looking forward to taking that deep dive on the team – and himself – on the good things, bad things and overall, what happened.

“There was a lot of good and you know, a lot of…feeling a little empty in some capacity,” he noted. 

He saw the microcosm of that during the quarterfinals against the St. Fx X-Men. How they felt empty about hwo they played in the first half – falling behind by 30 points at halftime – but yet invigorated by what they did in the second half. Queen’s cut the lead down to single digits and came close to coming back.

In terms of positives, several Gaels players matured and grew into leadership roles throughout the year, according to fourth-year forward Luka Syllas. He called it a collective thing – including himself.

“I really take it upon myself to set an example for the other guys and make sure we’re all on the same page,” Syllas added. “I try to bring that energy every time I can” 

He and his teammates showed their energy and impact on the court versus UQAM. Luka and his brother Cole paced the team with 23 points apiece. Luka also notched 10 rebounds. Forward Michael Kelvin finished with 16 points while guard Cameron Bett finished with 11 points. 

Meanwhile, Keefe had four points and a team-best 14 rebounds in his final university game in his hometown. “A key guy that we’re going to be missing next year so we’re definitely going to have to fill that role,” Syllas said. “I’m excited for what we have bringing for next year.” 

As for next season…one thing is certain. UQAM and Queen’s will meet once again. The Gaels are hosting the Citadins in a preseason tournament along with the Victoria Vikes and Brock Badgers, according to Barrie.

Perhaps – like this season – they will meet again at nationals this time next year. Perhaps their journeys will come full circle again. 

“I would love to see them at nationals next year,” Barrie said. “But you know, look, they have their journey that they have to go on. We have to go on our journey.” 

Featured Image: Trevor MacMillan/U SPORTS/Dalhousie Athletics

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