The Western University Mustangs' men's basketball team has made strides this season. The team has turned itself from Ontario University Athletics cellar-dweller to surefire playoff team.
Wednesday night's beatdown at the hands of the Brock University Badgers showed that this team is still far from a national championship contender. Their 92–51 loss was the worst of the season. And it was a sign that, for all the good feelings and anticipation that a program rebuild brings, there is still a wide gap between the Mustangs and the best teams in the nation.
That's what the Badgers are. They're 21–2, riding a 12-game winning streak and currently ranked the second best team in the nation. And on Wednesday, they were a force that the Mustangs simply couldn't reckon with.
"Brock is one of the best teams in the country," said Mustangs head coach, Brad Campbell. "Sometimes I think when you prepare for teams, you can watch film and talk about all this stuff. But once you see it up front, I don't think it really sunk in until we got in the game, and that first quarter was a real struggle. We got rattled a bit, and then our offensive execution was off, probably felt a little sorry about ourselves, and then it just got out of hand."
The Mustangs have had a commendable season, but in their games against the Badgers, Carleton University Ravens, University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and Laurentian University Voyageurs, the four best teams in the OUA through the regular season, the Mustangs are 0–5. Their wins over the Ryerson University Rams and Queen's University Golden Gaels are the only victories they've compiled against teams with winning records. While the narrative for much of the season has been about the incredible program turnaround — from seven wins last season to 14 this year — this is still a flawed team that has struggled to beat the province's elite squads.
The Mustangs shot 28 per cent from the field on Wednesday night. It was a mirrored performance from their 28 per cent shooting in their first meeting against Brock in the season opener.
The Mustangs have made a habit of becoming completely inefficient offensively when facing off with the elite teams in the country. It's a habit that fails to bode well for a potential playoff run in which Western is sure to meet any one of Carleton, Ottawa, Laurentian or Brock in the postseason.
But in the end, it's okay, because the Mustangs are ahead of schedule. This team wasn't supposed to be 14–9 with the second place spot in the OUA West Division locked up. And as they honoured their seniors on the final home game of the regular season, everyone was reminded of where this program has been and where it's come from.
Jedson Tavernier, Henry Tan and Cam Morris were all honoured for their contributions to the program. Tavernier and Morris were both valuable, high-ceiling role players during much of their time in the purple and white. Tan was a transfer this year from Lakehead University, and became a lethal shooter from beyond three. Tavernier and Morris both lived through the low points of losing seasons. Tan chose the program despite those low points, and all three played pivotal roles and leading the program climb up the metaphorical mountain.
"It felt good, and it's crazy how fast it's gone by, four years you know," said Tavernier on being honoured for his contributions to the program. "It was nice to think about all the memories over the four years, and just nice being commemorated for all that and all the hard work."
The Mustangs have one more regular season game before the playoffs start, where they'll travel to Guelph on Saturday to take on the Gryphons. They'll be looking to head into the postseason with momentum.
Their loss to Brock showed them that there's still a major gap between them and the OUA's best. But maybe, as the playoffs role around and this program continues to grow and develop, that's not such a bad thing.