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Laval Rouge et Or defeat Queens to win first U Sports Final 8 national title

The Laval Rouge et Or make history as the first eighth seed to claim the U Sports men’s basketball national championship.

Laval Rouge et Or 2024 U Sports Final 8 Men's National Basketball Championship in Quebec City.
Laval Rouge et Or 2024 U Sports Final 8 men's national championship in Quebec City. - Photo: U Sports/Twitter/X

In a thrilling dispqay of resilience and skill, the Laval Rouge et Or established their place in Canadian basketball history by claiming their maiden U Sports men’s basketball national championship.

The Amphithéâtre-gymnase Desjardins in Quebec City witnessed an electrifying moment as the eighth-seeded Laval (12-20) prevailed over the No. 2 Queens Gaels with a final score of 77-71. This marks the first time that an eighth seed and team with a record below 500% has won the national title.

Amidst a game punctuated by momentum swings, Laval found themselves on the brink of squandering their title aspirations.

Building a hard-earned nine-point lead with less than six minutes to play, the Rouge et Or struggled to close out the game as Queens orchestrated an 11-3 run. The crowd fell silent after a steal and a fast-break dunk by Aaron Tennant, giving Queens a 69-68 lead with just 1:38 remaining.

In a high-stakes moment following the timeout, Laval’s fate rested on a long and contested three-point shot by point guard Steeve Joseph. The miss was skilfully rebounded between three Queens players by six-foot-nine forward Ismael Diouf, who laid the ball back in, reclaiming a one-point lead for Laval.

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The two teams faced each other earlier in the year, with Queens delivering a 28-point beat down, the second-largest of Laval’s season, in a commanding 97-69 victory at the 2023 Bishop Gaiters Tournament in Lennoxville, Quebec on October 5, 2023.

Laval rouge et or jayden larosiliere celebrates and points to rafters after defeating queens to win their first u sports mens basketball championship
Laval Rouge et Or guard Jayden Larosiliere (6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals) celebrates and points to the rafters after defeating Queens to win their first U Sports men’s basketball championship – Photo: U Sports/Twitter/X

In the end, a last-ditch missed attempt by Queens’ guard Luka Syllas, and a subsequent made jump shot and free-throws by Joseph sealed the deal for Laval, securing their historic first U Sports men’s basketball championship in front of their home fans.

The journey to the championship was no less dramatic than the final itself. Trailing 8-5 early in the game, Laval orchestrated a remarkable 16-0 run, establishing a commanding 21-8 lead highlighted by Diouf’s put-back slam. Queens countered with a 6-0 run, narrowing the gap to 24-17 by the end of the first quarter.

As momentum shifted to their side, the Gaels tied the game at 24-24 early in the second quarter. They eventually took a slim 43-39 halftime lead by out-rebounding Laval 32-15 in the first half and scoring 18 second-chance points.

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Looking to increase their lead over the home team, the Gaels extended their advantage to a game-high seven points at 51-44. However, the Rouge et Or quickly responded, regaining the lead at 57-56 by the end of the third quarter. They then built on their lead, reaching a nine-point advantage early in the final quarter on a poster dunk by Diouf.

Laval rouge et or forward ismael diouf throws down a big dunk against queens gaels
Laval Rouge et Or forward Ismael Diouf throws down a big dunk against the Queens Gaels in the championship game. Diouf named Most Valuable Player of the 2024 U Sports men’s Final 8 tournament in Quebec City. – Photo: U Sports/Twitter/X

Second-year forward Ismael Diouf (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.) emerged as a linchpin in the championship showdown, contributing an impressive 26 points, twelve rebounds, four blocked shots, and two steals on 10-of-14 shooting.

Senior guard Steeve Joseph bolstered the offensive onslaught with 24 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, showcasing his versatility on the court. Six-foot-three guard Sidney Tremblay-Lacombe added valuable contributions with 10 points and three assists, rounding out a balanced team effort for the Rouge et Or.

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First-team All-Canadian guard Luka Syllas paced Queens with 23 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. His brother Cole Syllas finished the tournament with his second double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

Aaron Tennant, who scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the first half, was limited to just two points and zero rebounds in the second half.

Initially outworked, Laval managed to narrow the rebounding gap from the first half, finishing the game with a 51-44 rebound advantage. They out-rebounded Queens 29-19 in the second half. Both teams combined for only thirteen three-pointers, with the Ontario champions struggling with a 4-of-23 (17%) performance from beyond the arc.

Having surprised many with an upset win over the top-ranked and three-time Canada West champions Victoria Vikes, the Rouge et Or continued to defy expectations throughout the tournament.

Laval Rouge et Or hoist the WP McGee Trophy after defeating the Queens Gaels to win the 2024 U Sports men's basketball championship in Quebec City.
Laval Rouge et Or hoist the WP McGee Trophy after defeating the Queens Gaels to win the 2024 U Sports men’s basketball championship in Quebec City. Photo: U Sports/Twitter

Their path included victories over three conference champions, including Atlantic University Association (AUS) champions Dalhousie Tigers in the semi-finals, setting the stage for a hard-fought victory against the formidable Ontario champions, Queens Gaels, in the championship game.

The Cinderella story of Laval’s journey became even more remarkable, considering their subpar 9-20 overall record and 6-10 conference performance, underachieving entering the tournament. A setback in the RSEQ playoffs against Concordia on February 28, 2024, saw them fall short of the conference title.

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However, as the host for the national championship and under the guidance of their fifth-year head coach, Nathan Grant, Laval shifted their focus to the Final 8 tournament, ultimately emerging victorious.

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Laval’s victory not only marked their first U Sports men’s basketball national championship, but also ended the RSEQ’s long championship drought, breaking a 25-year dry spell dating back to Bishop’s Gaiters in 1999.

Alongside the Concordia Stingers magical 1990 run, this is only the third time a Quebec-based Canadian university has won the national men’s basketball championship since its inception in 1963.

Other previous attempts by an eight seed have all come-up short of lifting the W.P McGee trophy.

Most recently, in 2022, the Saskatchewan Huskies (21-8, 11-5 Canada West) defeated the Brock Badgers with a score of 77-73 in the quarter-finals and advanced to the gold medal game with an 86-60 win over Queens. Unfortunately, they were unable to secure the championship title as they fell to the Carleton Ravens 85-72 in the championship.

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In the year 2000, the Brandon Bobcats (23-15, 11-9 Canada West) surprised the No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears with a 73-57 victory. They then proceeded to beat Western 61-58 in the semifinals before ultimately losing to St. FX 61-60 in the finals.

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