Mustangs Comeback Falls Short Against Railsplitters
Western Mustangs Men's BasketballJohn Urban
The Western Mustangs men’s basketball team doesn’t start their OUA regular season until October 24th when they take on the Gryphons at the University of Guelph. That doesn’t mean though that fans won’t get a chance to see the purple and white in action, as they have nine preseason home games scheduled before tip-off of the 2018-2019 season. A variety of teams from different leagues and levels will travel down to the Forest City to try and sharpen their skills against the Mustangs throughout September and the majority of October. Starting with Western hosting Lincoln Memorial University early on Sunday afternoon, not at Alumni Hall, but at Thames Hall.
Lincoln Memorial University is an NCAA Division II opponent from Harrogate, Tennessee that competes in the South Atlantic Conference. With LMU not having a football program, the Railsplitters basketball team has brought the most recent success in athletics back to their campus, competing in the 2016 NCAA Division II National Championship game, losing 90-81 to Augustana University. Lincoln Memorial University continues to be a perennial powerhouse in the NCAA Division II, consistently being ranked within the top five.
If facing an unfamiliar opponent wasn’t enough a monkey wrench thrown into the plans, Alumni Hall wouldn’t be available for Sunday’s contest, forcing the teams to face-off across the roundabout at Thames Hall. Tex Turner Arena seats about 5, 000 spectators where the Railsplitters play their basketball in Tennessee; it must have been a shock to play in a facility with low ceilings and muggy air that gives the atmosphere equivalent to an older elementary school gym.
The navy blue and grey shot out of the gate and really controlled the tempo in the first half of action, solidifying a strong double-digit lead. The Mustangs displayed incredible defence against very talented competition, but it was their possession on offence that saw more turnovers, than correct execution of plays, with the lack of practice and game time being evident on a few of the new faces on the team. Regardless of how bad things started on offence, Western eventually started to click and gnaw into the lead, cutting it down to 35-29 at halftime.
Humidity and hardwood usually don’t work out well in a home, let alone on a basketball court. Unfortunately, with the humidex reaching 40 in the Forest City on Sunday, Thames Hall showed no mercy to anyone inside. As sweaty hands made for turnovers and a slippery court cause some spills, the Mustangs appeared to fade in the 3rd quarter as the Railsplitters re-established a double-digit going into the final quarter with a 53-40 lead. Eventually the heat and humidity caught up to the boys from Tennessee, as they appeared to wither a bit in the 4th quarter. This allowed Western to come all the way back to a single point 62-61 with under a minute left in the game. With the score 63-61, the Mustangs had the ball in their possession in the final seconds, but the last shot of the game wouldn’t drop for the home team, allowing LMU to escape with the win.
The Guard from Claxton, Georgia Cornelius Taylor had a game-high 19 points, including 7 in the 1st quarter alone to lead Lincoln Memorial University to victory. While Marko Kovac also had a game-high 19 points for Western, with 9 points in the opening quarter alone. Omar Shiddo closely followed up with a 17-point performance, after being held off the scoresheet until the 2nd quarter in the loss.
The Western Mustangs are back in action Monday evening, as they take on Grand Valley State Lakers with at 5pm tip-off set at Thames Hall. With the humidex predicted to hit 40 again, it should make for some sauna-hot basketball action.