by Kim Elliot
The Lance Contributor
The Lancer men’s basketball team dropped a heart-breaking, buzzer-beater loss on the road to the Guelph Gryphons but battled back to snap a four-game losing skid and push their record of 5-5 this past weekend.
After dropping an 81-80 nail-biter to the Guelph Grypons at the W. F. Mitchell Athletic Centre Jan. 15, the Lancers earned a solid 87-80 victory over the pesky Algoma Thunderbirds at the St. Denis Centre Jan. 16.
Statistically, Guelph’s late heroics against Windsor earned them a very key win against an upper-tier contender. Windsor’s victory at home is statistically relevant as well but was also a moral imperative in stopping the Lancers losing skid at four games. Windsor has now bumped up their win percentage at .500 which is currently good enough to keep them in first place in the OUA West, whereas a demoralizing loss in place of an expected win could have accelerated a downward trajectory mentally and otherwise.
The timely spring board win also took place before 1,745 boisterous fans, some of which no doubt gathered in to the St. Denis to sneak a peak at 11-year NBA veteran Morris Peterson. “Moe Pete” was a member of coach Tom Izzo’a 1999-200 Michigan State Spartans NCAA championship team and a beloved Toronto Raptors legend and was on hand as part of the NBA All Star weekend skills challenge, which included a dunk contest, three-point shot contest and dribbling, passing contest held at half time. The latter two contests were won by former Lancer team MVP Khalid El-Gabar, which earned him an all expenses paid trip to the 2016 NBA All-Star game to be played in the Air Canada Centre Feb. 14.
Having scored twenty three points and dishing out seven assist in the one-point loss to Guelph, Lancer guard Mike Rocca gained some personal redemption in Windsor’s win by hitting eight clutch free throws to hold off a late surge from Algoma.
“I just keep telling the guys we’ve got to handle the adversity when things get tough and just keep our focus,” Rocca said. “Especially when teams go on runs like Algoma did in the first half, we can’t just hang our heads. Maybe we have to keep on finding ways to battle back, whether we win by two or 10 it doesn’t matter. I mean it’s hard on our bodies, but we just had to keep on battling, and our proud of our guys for pulling out the win.”
Lancer interim head coach Ryan Steer got an equally balanced attack by his starters and got much more help from his bench in warding off the hometown jitters. Four players once again scored in double-figure, this time lead by Alex Campbell’s game high 21 points. Campbell started to assert his scoring touch near the end of last season is having an authentic break-out year by averaging over 20 points per game which puts him among the top 10 scorers in the CIS.
Campbell said being relied on to score is a new role but he learned to relish it after Windsor learned a torn labrum would keep Mitch Farrell out of the lineup this year and the departure of three Lancer greats from last season in Rotimi Osuntola, Evan Matthews and El Gabar.
Points production aside, Cambpell said it was definitely a weight lifted to finally snap the four-game skid.
“Hopefully this will give us some momentum for the game on [Feb. 20] against Mac, it’s a big one,” said Campbell. “It’s also my fifth and last year of eligibility and so I intend to take care of things that I need to. Those two losses against Brock and Guelph are going to haunt me the rest of my life because they may affect our play-off ranking. But since Western lost a couple too, we’re still in first place in our division, so we’ll use this momentum and keep pushing.”
Campell’s rookie albeit now-seasoned teammate Isiah Osborne, who has been lightening the load in the scoring department, poured in 20 points against Guelph and is averaging 15 points and six boards per game. Osborne said the confidence his coach and teammates have in him has helped his adjustment to the CIS-style of pay.
“Overall the league is much tougher then in high school because the guys are much bigger and stronger,” Osborne said. “But also because of all of the little things you must take care of to not get burned on like boxing out and getting back on defense. If you make one little mistake the other team capitalizes on it. But coach Ryan has a lot of confidence in me as do the guys, so when I get the ball I just attack the rim. But I basically just go off of the flow of the team and it’s being going good so far”.
The all important win was mainly garner by the Lancers taking advantage of the Thunderbirds turnovers for a total of 25 points in the seven-point contest. Windsor outscored Algoma 36-20 on points in the paint, which resulted in a slightly higher overall shooting-percentage in field goals from inside and beyond three-point range.
Marko Kovac backed Campbell with 17 points along with Osborne’s 15 and Tyler Persuade’s 12 point production. Windsor’s bench stepped up to aid their starter throughout the contest and dominated points of the bench with a 19-2 margin over the Thunderbirds.
Answering back for Algoma upstarts was Andre Barber who hit four three-pointers en route to scoring 17 points with Sean Clendinning collecting 16 and Nathan Riley adding 11 points. The Thunderbirds defeated Western the night before but now drop to 1-8 on the year after the seven-point defeat.
Looking back on the season thus far and then forward to the match up against the McMaster Marauders Jan. 20 on the road, Rocca said the game could very well determine the Lancers OUA play-off standing, which will see the top-12 teams based on an RPI standings.
“We gotta get our percentage up. Yeah, those games were tough and we had a hard schedule, but there is no excuse,” Rocca said. “We know where the top teams are and where we need to be to beat the top teams. So handling these game are really important especially rest the of the way.”