Twelve games down and 12 games to go.
The halfway point of the Western Mustangs men's basketball season is here, and, after a buzzer-beating win over the Laurier Golden Hawks on Jan. 5, the Mustangs sit 6–6 on the season and second in the Ontario University Athletics West Division.
It's been a season of growth and development for a team one year removed from a total rebuild. And with wins over the Ryerson Rams and Queen's Gaels on the team's resumé, the Mustangs have exhibited an ability to compete with any team in the conference.
But a young team also presents challenges, particularly as the Mustangs continue to struggle adapting to head coach Brad Campbell's up-tempo, offensive system. The Mustangs have scored the fourth fewest points in the OUA so far this season and continue to struggle hitting their shots from the field.
However, the Mustangs have made up for their offensive hardships with a stout defence and a deep roster. They've established their formula for success, and they've shown they are capable of winning close and ugly games.
Campbell and his team hope they can have a strong second half of the season to make a push for the post-season.
"I think we are around where we expected to be at this point in the season," said Campbell. "Hopefully, this is where we can make a push and separate ourselves from the rest of the pack in the OUA West and finish in the top three come playoff time."
In their 78–76 win over Laurier last Friday, fourth-year Jedson Tavernier had a season-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting along with five rebounds and four steals. He also grabbed an offensive rebound in the waning seconds of the game before hitting a layup to win the game as time expired.
For a player who made the OUA All-Rookie team in 2015 but who has struggled to get minutes in his final collegiate season, Tavernier's potential resurgence could spell big things for the Mustangs' pivotal second half.
"Jedson will be very important for us," said Campbell. "The best thing about Jed is he is a positive voice and a great teammate. He's shown an ability to stay ready and fight through times when he may have not played as much as he would have liked, but he never complained or stopped working. He just stayed ready. Having his veteran presence and experience will only be a good thing for us the rest of the way."
Next up, the Mustangs will face the Lakehead Thunderwolves in a weekend home stand. At 1–11, the Thunderwolves have been the OUA's worst team so far this season, and they'll provide the perfect opportunity for the Mustangs to improve to 8–6.
The pair of games against the Thunderwolves will also kick off a relatively favourable stretch for Western. After the doubleheader against Lakehead, the Mustangs will play the Guelph Gryphons, McMaster Marauders, Algoma Thunderbirds (in a back-to-back), Waterloo Warriors and Windsor Lancers. Those six teams have a combined record of 19–53.
But first, they need to take care of the Thunderwolves at home. It will be imperative, if the Mustangs are to entrench themselves among the OUA's top contenders, to take care of the league's cellar-dwellers.