One or done.
The Western Mustangs men's basketball team has their biggest challenge of the season on tomorrow night: a do-or-die first round playoff matchup with the Lakehead Thunderwolves on for a shot at extending their season at least one more game.
The Mustangs go into Wednesday night on a two game winning streak, with only three losses in their last ten games.
They even beat Lakehead 84-69 on Friday night, lead by a monster 29 point, nine rebound performance from fifth-year senior Tony Spiridis.
Yet the past doesn't matter come playoff time. The stakes don't get any higher. One team will live to play another day and one team will go home to pack up their lockers for the season.
“Lakehead is a good team and we played really well," said Mustangs head coach Brad Campbell on his teams mindset going into Wednesday nights game. "We have to take a few things from that game that we’re gonna work on and take a look at, but our guys know we’re gonna throw out that game because it’s the playoffs. It’s one and done at this point."
It has been a roller coaster ride of a season for the Mustangs this year. The team hit rock bottom on Jan. 15, losing to the then winless Algoma Thunderbirds at home.
A week later, the Mustangs beat the Brock Badgers in St. Catharines, a team ranked third in the nation at the time. With such extreme highs and lows, this team now appears mentally prepared to take on the challenge of an elimination game.
However, this team can't get ahead of themselves. They easily defeated Lakehead in their first matchup, but Lakehead is a dangerous team. They beat the McMaster Marauders twice this season. McMaster is 14-5 this season, including a huge win over the second ranked team in Canada, the Ottawa GeeGees.
"We're heading into the game with confidence, but Lakehead is a strong team with some big wins this year and we know that they're a tough team to play," said Tony Spiridis on what could be his final game as a Western Mustang. "They have two really talented guys in Bacarius Dinkins and Henry Tan. And it's never easy playing a team twice in six days."
Dinkins is a forward out of Jonesville, Florida who provides offensive versatility and intensity in the paint, averaging 17.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. His teammate, Henry Tan, averages 15.6 points per game. Together, the duo provide the Thunderwolves with a dangerous one-two punch.
On Friday night, Tom Filgiano limited Tan to only two points. For the Mustangs to get another win, Filgiano will need to continue providing the defensive expertise that makes him an under appreciated asset for this team.
“Tan is a big key to their offensive machine and scoring," said Campbell. "Tom Filgiano, who we think is one of the better defenders in the league, did an outstanding job on Friday and we think he’s gonna have to do an outstanding job again Wednesday.”
Another key for the Mustangs is to get solid scoring off the bench. Throughout the season, fifth-year superstar Greg Morrow has been the go-to offensive threat. Tony Spiridis and Peter Scholtes have also contributed offensively, forming a three pronged attack.
However, to make a playoff run, there needs to be an increase in secondary scoring from guys like Nik Farkic, Jedson Tavernier and Alex Coote. In their season finale on Saturday night against the Algoma Thunderbirds, the Mustangs bench had 22 points, a pleasant change from the often shallow bench scoring that has been seen throughout the year.
“It’s something that’s been extremely important all season, and something that we can take from that Algoma game moving into the playoffs, because we can use any contributions off the bench are gonna be huge for us," said Campbell on his teams much-needed bench production. "I mean, we’ve been getting some contributions, we just haven’t been getting much scoring. If we can get a little scoring off our bench, we’ll be hard to beat.”
For the Mustangs seniors, the game will be particularly significant. Due to playoff seeding, this will be the last game Spiridis, Morrow, Scholtes, Filgiano, and Elliot Dooley will ever play at Alumni Hall.
Greg Morrow has established himself as the all-time leading scorer in program history. He has carried the team on his back at times this season, and currently leads the Ontario University Athletics conference in points per game. He has accomplished everything a player could. But his story is not finished. As always, this team will go as far as Morrow can take them.
“He’s huge," said Campbell on his star player. "He’s carried us on his back a lot this season, and he’s gonna have to continue to be our big gun, especially in crunch time as the playoffs come down. He’s more than capable of it carrying us again.”
The Mustangs hope for a raucous crowd on Wednesday night. A Facebook event for the game encouraged people to bring sound making devices to bring the noise in Alumni Hall. Home court advantage against Lakehead is about more than just avoiding that treacherous 14-hour drive to Thunder Bay. It is about getting fans out to provide this team with energy.
"We're glad to host the game at Alumni Hall," said Tony Spiridis on the significance of opening the playoffs at home. "The home game for us is huge, we hope to have a good crowd turn out for the game and for a lot of us it's our last game at Alumni."
The Mustangs opened their season on Nov. 4 against Waterloo. Four months later, the team has it all on the line. One more game, with the chance to move on. One game for the seniors to prove their excellence at home.
This could be the last game that this Mustangs team plays together ever again. Or it could be the next step in a successful run.
This is what playoff basketball is all about.