Mike DeBoer (Headshot)

Mike DeBoer, Gazette managing editor.

A Jedson Tavernier buzzer beater on Jan. 5 lifted the Western Mustangs men's basketball team past the Laurier Golden Hawks, and it was easy to dismiss it as just one win.

Again, on Jan. 12 and 13, two consecutive victories over the now 1–13 Lakehead Thunderwolves came, both of which were easily written off as wins over one of the worst teams in the country.

But what now? Now that, on Jan. 17, the Western Mustangs blew out the Guelph Gryphons to continue their undefeated 2018, scoring a point shy of 100 in the process, isn't it time to acknowledge that — at least at this point in the season, at least in the context of the players we thought were on this roster — that the Western Mustangs have done something that not even the most ardent believer could have expected?

For a program far exceeded in campus popularity by the football team and, to some extent, the men's hockey team, this men's basketball squad deserves recognition for its season so far. Because at 9–6, the Mustangs are rolling. This team was a lovable collection of scrappy players pulling out wins in unlikely situations.

At least, that's what they were up until their Wednesday-night game against the Gryphons. But then that shooting performance happened — 48.5 per cent from the three point line — and a team once plagued by offensive inefficiency and stagnant ball movement looked like a U Sports version of the Golden State Warriors.

So what happened to this team that won a measly seven games last season and struggled to gain momentum during the first half of this season?

Mustangs head coach Brad Campbell has an idea.

"I think today, we were just a little more confident," said Campbell while explaining his team's performance against the Gryphons.

Winning breeds confidence, and confidence breeds offensive efficiency. The Mustangs 84.5 points per game over their four game winning streak would be good for third in Ontario University Athletics if they had kept that pace all season.

Sure, the Gryphons aren't very good. And yes, the Mustangs biggest win of the season was over a Ryerson Rams team that was missing their star guard Ammanuel Diressa. 

But Wednesday confirmed that this program is ahead of schedule. A rebuilding season has turned into a probable playoff season. A 7–13 record last year could flip to a 13–7 record, or better, this year.

Campbell also deserves some credit for his team's full-scale transformation. While his sideline intensity can come off as a negative, and while his dedication to an up-tempo offensive system has come under criticism, he has his team firmly entrenched in the OUA's upper echelon with a favourable schedule ahead.

The Mustangs program has had a long and illustrious history, with 25 Wilson Cups and a national championship from 1991 under its belt, but the program hasn't been nationally relevant in years. Maybe it's on its way to get there again.

For the first time since February of 2016, the Mustangs have won four straight games. Now on to number five.


Load comments