Over the past weekend, the men’s basketball Final Four took place at the Mattamy Athletic Centre in Toronto, Ont.

Three out of the four teams would qualify for the CIS Final 8 tournament.

McMaster was a game away from qualifying for the Final Four.

If they had qualified for the national tournament, it would have been a step closer to the Marauders’ program goal of winning a CIS Championship.

Head coach Amos Connolly is firm about the objective. It’s the only goal he will talk to you about.

That being said, McMaster’s failure to make the Final 8 tournament doesn’t mean this is a lost season in Connolly’s books.

“If there’s a value from what the whole experience of what this year was, it’s them feeling for themselves what we as coaches have been trying to instill in them,” explained the head coach.

That feeling is determination. A drive to succeed. A scratch you can’t itch until you achieve a goal.

None of this is meant as a slight to the team’s effort level because that effort has been there.

You can see the major steps that some of the players have made.

Connolly points to Taylor Black, Nathan McCarthy and Joe Rocca as the players who worked the hardest in the offseason, and they clearly reaped the benefits at the start of the year.

Black earned a spot on OUA All-Star first team, his first nod in a three-year career. The kinesiology student entered this season with lofty expectations from the coaching staff.

He delivered though, becoming the focal point of Mac’s offense. The Stoney Creek native also emerged as a player who thrives in the fourth quarter.

McCarthy solidified himself as a starter in the line-up, while also anchoring the Maroon defense.

Connolly speaks highly of the second-year player, praising him whenever he has an opportunity.

A player of his size and skill is rare in the OUA, and the Marauders still have three more years of eligibility from him.

Rocca made the biggest leap of all. He bumped his scoring up from 9.4 points per game to 14.7 points per game.

His field goal percentage rose two points to 44.0 per cent, but more impressively his three-point shot percentage went from 27 per cent to a ridiculous 40 per cent.

His mark ranks among some of the best shooters in the league.

But there are two players that the stat sheet won’t tell you about: Scott Laws and Nathan Pelech.

“There’s two guys that deserve a ton of credit: Scott Laws and Nathan Pelech. It would have been acceptable or easy or whatever you want to call it, for those two guys to maybe step away and do their own thing this year,” explained Connolly.

“Not only did they stay, they laid the foundation. A huge credit is going to have to go to Pelech and Laws.”

Pelech is just waiting for a program acceptance to return for a fifth year. But Laws has finished his final year of eligibility. It’s tough for the team to watch Laws go, as he was the definition of teammate.

Laws left everything at the door when he stepped into the gym – his effort on the court was exactly what a team needs.

Although quiet on the court, his consistency – especially on defense – spoke volumes.

Mac’s bench boss struggles to say good-bye to Laws, but is optimistic about filling the void.

“I’m happy with the fact that I can see Rohan Boney stepping into Scott Laws’ minutes,” says Connolly.

Boney earned OUA Rookie on the Year and CIS All-Rookie team honours this year and has the length and athleticism to fill Laws’ shoes.

The rookie also has a similar demeanor to his veteran counterpart, as Boney rarely shows emotion on the court.

The early exit from the playoffs was a disappointing end to a long season.

The Mac coaching staff is optimistic about the future though and not just because of this year’s growth.

“What’s positive right now: I think from top to bottom, our whole team feels like we didn’t accomplish what we could have because we were just starting to play pretty good basketball,” said Connolly.

The head coach also a lot of the onus to get better on him for this team to improve on the offseason. If this team wants to reach the next step, McMaster can’t afford to put the “off” in offseason.

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