The 2016–17 season remains a riddle for the Western Mustangs men's basketball team.
The Mustangs have struggled throughout the campaign, unable to gain momentum. After a stunning 90–65 win over the Windsor Lancers on Jan. 14 Western was heading into the two toughest games on their schedule with the goal of staying competitive.
But the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens were too much to handle for the Mustangs, dropping Brad Campbell's team to 3–11 on the season.
The No. 3 Gee-Gees and No. 1 Carleton Ravens have dominated the Canadian college basketball landscape for over a decade. And they brought that dominance to London this past weekend, with the Mustangs falling to the Gee-Gees 55–91 before losing to Carleton 80-62.
Both teams have been built to win championships. And they were too much to handle for this rebuilding Mustangs team.
“Both teams are built without many flaws," said Mustangs head coach Brad Campbell. They’ve got size, they’ve great guard play, they’ve got great depth. They’re both defensively solid. Therefore you can’t make mistakes against them.”
Due to some strange scheduling by Ontario University Athletics the Mustangs had a two week layoff between their win over Windsor and their game against Ottawa. And the rust was evident from the start of the game.
The Gee-Gees outscored Western 9–22 in the opening quarter and never looked back. Despite solid performances from Eriq Jenkins (14 points and six rebounds) and Omar Shiddo (10 points and four rebounds), the early game struggles loomed over the Mustangs. The lack of energy frustrated Campbell.
“Overall we were a little disappointed with our game versus Ottawa," said Campbell. "We came out a little flat, a little unfocused. Not to make excuses but I don’t think the layoff up until that game was really good for us. Carleton game was a little better. We played with a little more focus and passion and executed a little better. Hopefully we can carry that into games we have coming up here.”
The Mustangs were atrocious from long range against Carleton, going 3-for-24 from the three point line. However it was a solid overall performance from the Mustangs against the team that has won 12 of the last 14 national titles.
But a loss is a loss. And with the season winding down the Mustangs are becoming a desperate team with a playoff appearance seeming more and more like a pipe dream.
"We know that we have to play with some desperation at this point in the season," said third-year guard Jedson Tavernier. "Every game we go into we have to have that desperate mentality and we need to want it more than the other team. We know what's at stake over the next couple weeks and we are going to work hard to make a push for the playoffs."
Next up for the Mustangs is a pair of games in Sault Ste. Marie against the Algoma Thunderbirds. At 4–10 the Thunderbirds are a spot ahead of the Mustangs in the OUA West division.
The Mustangs are currently last in the OUA in rating percentage index, which is the determining ranking for playoff positions. These two upcoming games against Algoma will be must-win affairs.
"Next weekend is extremely important for us," said Tavernier. "It is an interdivisional matchup against a team that is just ahead of us in the rankings. We need to be completely locked in and focused and try to escape with two wins that weekend. We are on the road, so we are going to have to bring all the energy and fight for those two games for sure."
The Mustangs are running out of time. It will take everything this team has to salvage the last month of their season.