The 2016–17 season was about rebuilding for the Western Mustangs men's basketball team.
With a young nucleus, the Mustangs struggled to a 7–13 record, missing the playoffs but learning valuable lessons along the way. Last season was a look forward, an opportunity for the team to develop and return to Ontario University Athletics contention in the future.
But after an 83–58 loss to the Brock Badgers on Wednesday to kick off their 2017–18 campaign, it's obvious that the Mustangs have work to do. As the cliché goes, it's easier to fall down the mountain than climb it.
And the climb to the top will be long for the Mustangs.
There were some positives to take from the 25 point loss. The Mustangs out-rebounded the Badgers 37–36, with 21 of those rebounds coming off the offensive board. They also forced Brock to turn the ball over 24 times while only committing 20 turnovers themselves.
A loss to Brock University is never something to be ashamed about. Charles Kissi, head coach of the men's basketball team at Brock, has built a perennial winner in St. Catharines, and the Badgers finished last year ranked fourth in the nation.
But the Mustangs also couldn't shoot the ball at all on Wednesday. Western went 19-of-67 from the field, and 6-of-29 from three. It's a problem that has plagued the Mustangs in the past and will be a major hindrance to a return to the OUA playoffs this season.
The Mustangs had a slow start, going down 12–0 in the opening four minutes of the game. The Badgers had the 19–11 lead after the first quarter. The Brock lead grew in the second quarter, as the Mustangs faced a 43–27 deficit after the first half.
But with a 28 per cent shooting performance, the Mustangs couldn't get back in the game.
According to fourth-year guard and team captain Alex Coote, the return to the court was exciting, despite the loss.
"Felt good to be back on the court last night," said Coote. "We’re excited about our ability to do some damage in the OUA this year even though that obviously wasn’t the result or performance we wanted."
Coote also believes the team's shooting can improve. The team is not lacking in talent, with players like Omar Shiddo and Eriq Jenkins leading a core of talented young guards who can heat up from the field.
"We’ve got lots of good shooters on our team so I don’t think we’re gonna have too many nights like that again this year but at the same time the more we can get the ball in the paint, play downhill, and get the ball moving, the better quality of shots we’re gonna get which will lead to more successful shooting," said Coote.
The Badgers, who are poised to be one of the elite defensive teams in the OUA this season, stifled the Mustangs ball movement. With upcoming games against Waterloo and Toronto, the Mustangs should have an opportunity to spread the floor and speed up the game.
An opening loss to Brock is not the end of the world. It's an indicator that this program is still on a journey to get to the top of the OUA. Certainly, having elite recruit Jordan Henry would have changed the expectations for the team.
The Mustangs have the potential to be a good team this year, despite the final score against Brock.