Heading into a weekend road trip to northern Ontario to cap off the first half of their 2018-19 season, Western Mustangs men's basketball head coach Brad Campbell saw a pivotal opportunity for his team to take a major step at a key moment in the season.
"Hopefully we can get two wins this weekend against two teams that are very tough to play on the road," said Campbell before the weekend. "Our focus and execution at both ends of the floor will be key. Our veterans need to carry us."
All those things happened for Campbell and the Mustangs, as they earned a much-needed sweep to finish the first semester off on a high note. With wins over the Nipissing Lakers and Laurentian Voyageurs, the Mustangs now sit at 7–4 on the season.
Third-year guard Omar Shiddo led the Mustangs in a third quarter comeback in the weekend's first game, as the Mustangs fought their way back to earn a 77–72 win over the Lakers on Friday night.
Shiddo led the Mustangs with a season-high 34 points. Fourth-year guard Eriq Jenkins and fifth-year guard Jedson Tavernier also aided in the offensive effort, scoring 11 and 14 points respectively. Fourth-year point guard Nik Farkic also played a pivotal part in the Mustangs efforts, contributing nine assists and five steals.
Marcus Lewis led the now 2–8 Lakers on the evening, dropping 26 points. Marvin Ngonadi was also a key cog in the Nipissing offense, putting up 18 points on the Mustangs.
The Lakers came out in the first quarter with a 10–2 run, putting the Mustangs on their heels early. However, Campbell called a time out to compose and calm his squad. Western came out with stiffer defence, closing the gap against the Lakers. A three-pointer from Shiddo helped put the Mustangs ahead, and Western went into the second quarter with a 19–18 lead.
However, Nipissing refused to back down, playing tough defence that forced the Mustangs to settle for low percentage jumpers. The Lakers opened up an 8–0 run halfway through the second quarter and eventually took a 44–33 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
Coming out at halftime, Shiddo played like the elite scorer that he's proven himself to be time and time again this season. He scored 17 points in the third quarter, singlehandedly getting his team back into the game, giving them a momentum boost that left the Nipissing defence reeling. A last-second steal and jump shot by Jenkins capped off the dominant quarter for the Mustangs, as they led 61–53 heading into the fourth quarter.
In a game of back-and-forth swings, the Lakers mounted a comeback of their own to close the gap to within two possessions. However, Western held onto the lead to come out of the tough road game with a 77–72 win.
On Saturday the Mustangs looked to maintain the momentum they gained against Nipissing as they headed to Sudbury to take on Laurentian. And with another gritty effort in a challenging road test, the Mustangs again proved that they're one of the top teams in the Ontario University Athletics West Division with the 88–78 win.
Four Mustangs scored double-digit points in a well-rounded offensive performance by a team that has struggled to score for much of the season. Jenkins led the Mustangs with 20 points, alongside six rebounds and five assists. Tavernier, Shiddo and second-year forward Julian Walker all contributed, scoring 17, 15 and 12 points respectively. Farkic added nine assists for the second straight evening.
Taking advantage of Laurentian's injury-ridden lineup, which was missing Kadre Gray, its leading scorer, Western came out with a 12–3 run to put themselves in charge early. Jenkins pushed the offense much like Shiddo did the evening before, scoring eight points in the opening quarter. The Mustangs' effectiveness came from inside the paint, moving the ball around and spacing the floor to open up the Laurentian defence, finding holes to dish the ball down low. At the end of the first quarter, Western held a commanding 28–16 lead.
Despite their poor first quarter performance, the Voyageurs attempted to keep pace with the Mustangs scoring performance and chip away at the Western lead. The teams exchanged runs, and the Mustangs held onto their double-digit lead, closing out the half up 46–36.
The second half saw both defences clamp down as the scoring pace slowed. The Voyageurs came out of the half with a 9–2 run, but the Mustangs responded with a run of their own. Campbell switched his defensive system from a zone to a man-to-man defence in order to force turnovers and prevent ball movement. The Mustangs took advantage of several turnovers to stop any momentum the Voyageurs had. The Mustangs held a 59–53 lead heading into the final frame.
The Voyageurs attempted to come back in the game as the game neared its end, but their offensive woes, combined with the Mustangs hard-nosed defensive effort, made their attempts futile. The Mustangs were able to close out the game efficiently on both ends of the floor en route to the 88–78 win. The loss dropped the Voyageurs to 5–5 on the year. With the weekend sweep, the Mustangs head into the second half of the season with momentum and confidence.
"[It's] a great way to head into the December break," said Campbell. "Hopefully the break will be good for us, and we can get some of our guys healthy for the second half. There would've been nothing worse then losing and having to wait a month until your next game."
Now at 7–4 on the season, the Mustangs head into the December break with a second-place spot in the OUA West. They're within striking distance of the top spot in a competitive division, where the Laurier Golden Hawks and Brock Badgers also have seven wins. The Mustangs return to action on Jan. 5 as they look to take a run at the top spot with a date against the division rival Badgers.