Mustangs School Gaels In Home-Opener

Western Mustangs Men's Basketball

Roger Cumberbatch

Basketball is not just a game of physical skill.  Sure, the ability to bounce a ball is an essential element to performing in the sport, but so is the mental skill of bouncing back.  After a loss, particularly a close defeat, teams tend to feel sorry for themselves or panic when the same symptoms that caused the previous losses, return.  The great teams in any sport find a way to overcome their past demons and rise through the fog that blinded them before. Never has that been more true for the Western Mustangs Men’s Basketball team who faced off against the Queen’s Golden Gaels on School Day.  Western made their home debut in front of a capacity crowd at Alumni Hall, which was filled mostly with excited highschool students in attendance for a rare morning game. Although the children were missing class, they and Queen’s learned a couple of valuable lessons.  Each were shown that indeed Western can recover from a loss last game to win 66-62 over the Gaels, and that the game is played for four quarters, not three.

The bleachers and regular seats were packed with kids cheering on the purple and white.  Early in the first quarter, the deafening noise seemed to interfere with the visitors from Queens.  While the Mustangs applied pressure, the Gaels’ players struggled to hear instructions from head coach Stephan Barrie, and each other for that matter.  Western opened up an early 8-2 lead and Barrie was forced to call an early timeout in an attempt to calm his team’s nerves. Whatever Barrie said to his troops seemed to work.  The Mustangs were now playing on their heels as Queen’s climbed their way back into the game. The first quarter ended with quite the whimper after such an explosive start by Western.  The Mustangs led the Gaels 15-10 after the opening 12 minutes.

Queen’s certainly went after Western in the second quarter, applying their own brand of pressure defense, which did lead to a few turnovers and poor decisions made by the Mustangs.  Western was their own worst enemy at times as careless passes, and easy buckets plagued what was for the most part, a well executed game plan. Getting steals, grabbing defensive rebounds, pushing the pace of the game leading to transition three pointers, allowed the Mustangs to sustain any runs made by the Gaels.  Western guard Omar Shiddo asserted himself with a 10 point first half outburst, leading his squad into the locker room in possession of a 37-29 lead over Queen’s at halftime.

Alumni Hall was rocking at the beginning of the second half as the Mustangs looked to close out the Gaels quickly and give them no hope of a comeback in the final frame.  Queen’s on the other hand, had a much different idea on how they wanted the third to go. The Gaels received power from an unlikely source in Quinton Gray who poured in a team high 17 points.  Western already may have won the game in the quarter by eliminating the biggest threat from Queen’s, guard Jaz Bains. Bains was fresh off of a 37 point game versus the York Lions on October 26th.  Bains rained 8 three’s on the Lions in the win, but was stifled by the Mustangs’ defense managing only 9 points in Friday’s matinee. This was definitely a point of emphasis as coach of the Mustangs Brad Campbell alluded to in his post game comments.   Still, Western only had a 58-51 lead after 3 quarters.

Game-play was gritty, as both teams realized that every loose ball, or rebound was as valuable as found money.  The action was back and forth with neither team able to gain any sort of momentum. The Gaels were in the unfortunate position of trading baskets and playing catch up with a team that was winning, and not wanting to give up the lead.  The Mustangs were led by a gutty performance from Marko Kovac and his 18 points. Kovac suffered a hand injury in the 3rd, which affected his free throws, but not his heart as he led the team down the stretch with clutch drives and shots.  

The Purple and white improve to 2-1 with the win over Queen’s on Friday.  Western faces the York Lions on Saturday November 3rd at Alumni Hall. Game time is at 8pm.  The Lions, as mentioned before, are coming into Saturday’s contest after a 89-76 pounding at the hands of the Queen’s Golden Gaels.  The Mustangs had better prepared to treat the Lions like a wounded animal, and handle them with care in order to secure their third win on this young season.