The Western Mustangs men's basketball team couldn't pull out the win over their rival, the Windsor Lancers, on Wednesday night.
But the Mustangs gave the Ontario University Athletics West Division-leading Lancers all they could handle in the 85–78 loss. This team showed once again that it can hang with the OUA's best.
But hanging with a team is one thing, and winning is another thing altogether. And this Mustangs team couldn't finish off the Lancers after a third quarter meltdown led to Windsor taking control of the game.
After the win over York on Saturday, the Mustangs looked to come into Windsor and use the momentum to propel their way to the upset of a program that has become the crown jewel of the West Division. And although the Mustangs competed admirably, it wasn't enough to earn their third win of the 2016-17 campaign.
Third-year guard Jedson Tavernier had a season high 24 points on 9 of 14-shooting to lead all scorers in the game. First-year guard Omar Shiddo added 17 points while captain Eric McDonald had 10 points in the losing effort.
The Mustangs are staying positive despite the loss, as they have all season. They feel close to contention and believe that staying the course will lead to success.
"We have proven that we are able to play with some of the better teams in the league," said Tavernier about the team's mindset coming out of the loss. "Our problem has been getting over the hump and doing the little things in order to not just 'stay close' with these teams but to pull out the win. That being said, they are a great all-around team and I think it gives us motivation to clean up the mishaps."
The story sounds like a broken record. Six of Western's nine losses have been single-digit defeats. Initially it seemed like the Mustangs simply didn't have the experience to close out games. But maybe they're just not good enough.
These close losses are forming the identity of the program. And with a core of talented young players, the rest of the season can serve as a springboard for a bright future.
The Lancers used the three point shot in taking control of the game, shooting 40 per cent for the game and 50 per cent in the second half. A 31–23 run in the third quarter put the game in the hands of the Lancers, who survived a fourth quarter Mustangs comeback to hold on for the win.
"We knew that they would be putting up crazy shots but our responsibility was on the defensive glass and to make each one of their offensive trips a one and done," said Tavernier about Windsor's three-point shooting exhibition. "I think we did a good job of this in the first half, but we struggled in the third [quarter] as a couple of their shooters got off on us, which ultimately led us losing our lead."
Luke Allin led the Lancers with 21 points and eight rebounds while Mitch Farrell added 13 points and 11 boards. Five Lancers recorded double-digit scoring totals in the win and the Mustangs will need to focus in on Allin if they are to defend home court on Saturday in the rematch between the two teams.
“We gotta crowd him," said third-year captain Alex Coote on how to defend Allin. "If you can get up into him and not let him get his shots off, he’s not the most athletic guy so we just gotta crowd him and limit his shots.”
At 2–9 the Mustangs sit fourth in the West Division and have the second worst RPI in the conference. It's been a tough season. But it hasn't been without glimmers of hope and excess of exciting finishes. The Mustangs can make a statement, if not for anything but bragging rights, by avenging this loss by stealing one at home against Windsor on Saturday.