Wednesday night represented a blown opportunity for the Western Mustangs men's basketball team.
The 5–12 Mustangs, in the midst of a heated race for the 12th and final playoff spot in Ontario University Athletics with only four games left on the season, suffered a 96–77 loss at the hands of the Waterloo Warriors.
It was closer than the near 20-point defeat looks on paper. But it was an embarrassing showing for a team coming off two straight wins and at home against a 5–12 Warriors squad.
The first three quarters saw a game of runs break out, with both teams trading buckets for 11 lead changes. But the Mustangs imploded in the fourth quarter, unable to prevent the Warriors from crashing the offensive boards and suffering defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown.
"That was our worst defensive game for the whole four quarters," said Western head coach Brad Campbell. "We couldn't stop penetration, couldn't stop action, couldn't stop transition defence. We got hammered on the glass, we couldn't get defensive rebounds. We got beat up in every aspect of the game, pretty much."
The Waterloo Warriors were led offensively by their starting five, who accounted for 89 points. Freshman guard Simon Petrov led all scorers with 29 points, while senior Jon Ravenhorst added 27 points and eight rebounds. Nedim Hodzic and Justin Hardy also contributed with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
Ian Smart led the Mustangs with a career-best 19-point, eight-rebound and three-steal performance. Omar Shiddo added 14 points and Cam Morris had 13 points.
The Mustangs were a mess defensively, not switching and not stopping penetration to the basket. As the Warriors drove the lane for layup after layup, their energy and swagger and spirit continued to grow.
Perhaps the most telling statistic of the game was Waterloo's 51 rebounds to Western's 30. And when the Mustangs did get the rare stop late in the game, they tried to shoot their way back into the game to no avail.
"Defensively we weren’t doing a great job and then when we do get a stop we come down and take poor offensive shots and poor offensive possessions and it kind of snowballed," said Campbell. "Waterloo beat us in every aspect and they were the most disciplined team.”
Coming into the game there was a feeling around the Mustangs locker room that this team was on an upward trajectory after winning back-to-back games against Algoma.
Instead, they crashed and burned.
“We were pumped," said Mustangs freshman guard Omar Shiddo. "You can’t ask for more with these two division games against Waterloo and Laurier coming up. We were pumped for the game and we knew we could get them, and if we face them again I’m pretty sure we could get them because we wouldn’t have that kind of game and we would’ve played better. It is what it is.”
The season isn't over. Officially, at least. But a loss at home in a game with major playoff implications is a tough pill to swallow for this immensely talented and frustratingly inconsistent team.
This wasn't just any other game, but the Mustangs played like it was.