The Western Mustangs men's basketball team went into the past weekend riding a two game winning streak and boasting a 3–2 record.
They came out of it with a pair of losses against two of the nation's elite programs. Their 67–61 loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees on Friday night showed how far this Mustangs team has come from last year's 7–13 season. Their 82–61 loss to the Carleton Ravens on Saturday showed they still have a long way to go before they can compete with the top contenders in Ontario University Athletics.
"I think with some of the games we’ve had this season, last weekend included, we’ve started to show that we’re on the rise and we can make some noise in this league," said Mustangs fourth-year captain Alex Coote.
The Mustangs started off strong against the Gee-Gees, taking a 14–10 lead into the second quarter. Their swarming defence forced 10 Ottawa turnovers in the opening frame.
While the University of Ottawa had trouble and missed shots to start the second quarter, their fast break helped them take back the lead. The Mustangs, however, didn't fold in the wake of one of the best team's in the nation, as the two teams traded baskets and the Gee-Gees held a slim 30–28 lead at halftime.
The Mustangs would lead Ottawa 46–42 after the third quarter as Eriq Jenkins' 25-point performance masked a poor Western University performance on the boards. While the Mustangs lost the rebounding battle 44–31, they still had a chance to win with one quarter left in the game.
In the fourth quarter the Mustangs implemented a full court press, which contained the Gee-Gees' offensive attack. However, a late game three from Calvin Epistola and a layup from Jean-Emmanuel Pierre gave Ottawa the tight win.
"We would’ve really loved to get that game against Ottawa, and we all feel like that was our game for the taking," said Coote on the close loss to the Gee-Gees. "That was a game where we just didn’t do enough things right down the stretch and we beat ourselves."
The next day the Mustangs came out strong again in the first quarter, as Carleton held a slim 17–15 lead after the game's first ten minutes.
But while the Mustangs held their own defensively against the Ravens, forcing them to shoot 19 per cent from three and only 39 per cent from the floor, their inability to stop Carleton from penetrating the paint proved too much to overcome.
Henry Tan led the Mustangs in scoring with 14 points on 4-of-10 shooting, while Marko Kovacs added 13 points and six rebounds.
With the pair of losses, the Mustangs fall to 3–4 on the season. They remain tied for second in the Ontario University Athletics West Division, well behind the 8–0 Brock Badgers but in a solid position with four games left before the winter break.
With winnable games against York University, Queen's University and Nipissing University coming up, the Mustangs could get back on track, but what they showed in their weekend road trip to the nation's capital was that, while there's still work to do to get to the top of the OUA, the Mustangs aren't that far away from programs like Ottawa.