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Tough road lies ahead for second-ranked Gee-Gees

Thursday January 9, 2014
Richard A. Whittaker

When factoring in exhibition play, the no. 2 ranked uOttawa men’s basketball team holds a scorching record of 19-1 against CIS opponents and are poised to keep the ball rolling in 2014, starting with a road trip to Algoma and Laurentian this weekend.

The team has seen many positives in the first half, whether it be the play of rising star Caleb Agada, the dominance of Johnny Berhanemeskel or the arrival of Terry Thomas. There have been many bright points for the garnet and grey which they hope will lead to success in the second half.  

“I think if you look at the entire first half, it is hard for me to complain because we are pretty much where we want to be. Do I think we can play better and do I think we have a lot of room to improve? Yes of course, but I am happy with our positioning right now,” said head coach James Derouin. “Now we just have to make a run at the OUA East schedule and hopefully maintain a strong record heading into the end of the season.”

The squad had the opportunity to work out some kinks and prepare for the grueling second half of the season as they travelled to Winnipeg for the Wesmen Classic exhibition tournament in the final week of December. Despite strong play from the opposition they were able to come home with a tournament victory as they swept their opponents in three straight games.  Johnny Berhanemeskel was named tournament MVP for his strong play as he led the Gee-Gees on the score sheet in all three games, scoring 61 points in the tourney.

“I think it was important for us to have those games outside of conference versus some physical teams which allowed us to try out some new lineups. Having everyone healthy and playing together always helps team chemistry on the court which is something we strive to be, the closest team on and off the court,” said Berhanemeskel. “We know we have some big battles ahead of us in the second semester. We have been getting ready for them every day in practice so we won’t be caught off guard when those big games happen.”

The OUA East will be watched attentively as the race for a place in the OUA Final Four will surely intensify. No. 1 ranked Carleton remains atop the standings with a perfect 9-0 record followed by no. 4 Ryerson at 9-1, the Gee-Gees at 8-1 and Laurentian at 7-2.

The Gee-Gees tip off the New Year by embarking on a difficult road trip, travelling to Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night followed by a game on Saturday against the Laurentian Voyageurs.

The Algoma Thunderbirds are partaking in their first season in CIS after competing in the college ranks. The team has found some early success, posting a record of 3-6, but have lost four in a row. The Gee-Gees clearly hold the upper hand in the contest but will have to remain focused as the road trip is a difficult one – Ottawa will a spend a large amount of time travelling from one destination to the other.

Ottawa will have their biggest test on Saturday night when they take on dynamic scorer Alex Ratte and the Laurentian Voyageurs. Now in his third season, Ratte is enjoying his most productive campaign yet as he is currently ranked second in the CIS in points per game with 26.7. Laurentian is a high scoring team ranked sixth in the country in points per game with 84.7 and will certainly pose a serious threat to the Gee-Gees. Of note, the Gee-Gees are undefeated in the Voyageurs gym since 2005 but Laurentian is 4-0 at home this season.

“They are a very good team with some good weapons on offence. If you look at the past they have beaten us many times, including last year on our home court. It is important that we are ready for this game because one loss against them could send us to fourth place in the OUA.  With that said we will be ready for this game,” said Derouin.

The Gee-Gees will be in action on Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m.