Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
-with files from UNBC Athletics
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. – With a 99-80 defeat at the hands of the UNBC Timberwolves in their Canada West men's basketball season finale on Saturday night, the MacEwan Griffins head into the off-season empty-handed.
Yes, they officially have two wins on the season after Trinity Western was stripped of its first-semester victories over MacEwan after the fact for playing an ineligible athlete. That they didn't taste victory in the moment at all during the 2019-20 campaign, however, will be a bitter taste that will surely drive them over the next few months.
"They're disappointed," said MacEwan head coach Mike Connolly, whose team finishes at 2-18 in his first year at the helm of a program that's now missed the Canada West post-season for four-straight years. "When you don't win the games, you should be disappointed. They want to win and they're trying hard to win.
"We've got to do some things and we've got to coach them up better and we've got to work harder. We work hard, but we don't work hard consistently and that's going to be the theme in the off-season is working hard the whole time in the gym. That will carry over to next season so we can have 40 minutes of working hard instead of just 20 here and there."
Saturday's game came closer to what he's looking for as the Griffins stayed with the Timberwolves for a good portion of the contest.
"The score was closer than it finished," said Connolly. "We were tracking the last five minutes trying to get it back. It was a 10-12-point game and it was extended to what it was.
"The game had a good, close feel – could have gone either way. We made a commitment to the guys to just keep trapping and double teaming and gambling and we did it. There were times that it hurt us down the stretch."
Jake Notice led the Griffins with 25 points on 9-for-17 shooting from the field, adding five rebounds, two assists and two steals in a team-high 35 minutes on the court. Deonte Doslov-Doctor added 18 points and six boards in the final game of his Canada West career.
"It was definitely a green light for me today, one hundred percent," said Doslov-Doctor. "I wanted to go out with a bang. We wanted to make it a fun day, and hopefully go out with a win."
That didn't happen as the Griffins shot 35.7 per cent to UNBC's blazing 53.8 per cent.
"We had some opportunities, but we didn't (capitalize)," said Connolly. "I thought the effort was good. We had 17 offensive rebounds and I thought Jake probably played his best game of the year. He's starting to get it.
"Some of the other guys stepped up – Dustin (Gatzki) had a good game defensively and rebounding. So, it's coming. Just a little too late."
Graduating senior Anthony Hokanson led UNBC with 23 points, while fellow fifth-year Saje Gosal chipped in 17. Both Tyrell Laing and Vova Pluzhnikov scored 20 apiece and Fareed Shittu had a double double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
"It felt very free. The news of missing playoffs last night was unfortunate, but we all committed to come out tonight and play hard as we can," said Hokanson. "Play as free as we can, and have as much as fun as we can, and I think we did that tonight."
Like UNBC's seniors, the night was memorable for MacEwan's graduating senior Doslov-Doctor, who finishes as MacEwan's leader in career Canada West minutes (2,053), second in rebounds (298), third in points (705) and fourth in steals (60).
"I am going to miss being around the team," said Doslov-Doctor. "It has been really good. I am really happy to help our young guys wherever I can. I love everything about basketball. Shooting threes, running the floor, playing defence. I just love the game."