By: Justin Parker
The McMaster men’s basketball team kicked off their Ontario University Athletics season last weekend with tough back-to-back wins over the Lakehead Thunderwolves, including a Friday nail-biter that ended in overtime.
In both games, the Marauders saw a dip in scoring in the second quarter, most notably being held to one basket in the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Head coach Amos Connolly noted that despite being held to two points in the quarter, the team showed improvement defensively.
“Lakehead is phenomenal defensively and I think we settled for bad shots,” Connolly said. “I thought the guys did a really good job of not panicking. You get a score like [two points in a quarter] and it can kind of mess with your head. I think they did a good job of not letting it get to them too much… They committed to the understanding that we are going to make mistakes and just to make sure we improve and learn from it.”
The Marauders leaned on their starting five on the weekend, with Connor Gilmore playing a total of 76 minutes and posting a double-double in each game. Fifth-year forward Rohan Boney shined on Friday night, leading the team with 24 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists.
While the starting five for McMaster played a majority of the minutes, the team is still trying to figure out how to spread the remaining minutes among the bench players. One of the top rotation players from the bench of the weekend was Chris Thompson, who played 39 minutes between the two games. The sophomore guard contributed on the stat sheet with 12 points on Friday night but came up big late Saturday, sinking three key free throws to seal the game for the Marauders.
Coming away from their first weekend series, the Marauders have a lot they can use to build upon through the rest of the season. The team was able to hold the Thunderwolves to 56 points on Saturday, beating a usually low-scoring team at their own defensive game.
“We have to be able to win games in that style, that mindset,” Connolly said after the team’s practice on Monday. “I think this weekend was really good for us. It sort of opened our eyes to how we need to play to slow down some of the faster teams, and to rebound against some of the bigger teams. Both of them were sort of gut-check scenarios where guys had to make big free throws. I’m happy with the win and I’m happy with the lessons that we learned.”
Many teams can get caught up in rankings, trying to justify wins based on opponent records and other analytics. The Marauders, ranked third in the U Sports Top Ten, have a tough road ahead. They play Brock twice and travel to the nation’s capital to take on Ottawa and Carleton. Despite the tough schedule, Connolly is making sure that the team focuses on their own game, rather than arbitrary rankings.
“We don’t get caught up in being third in the country,” Connolly added. “It’s something we don’t spend time thinking about. For us, it’s just every opportunity, every game is a chance to learn something different. Brock is a transition-oriented team who are very big. That’s different than what we’ve had so far. We are going to have to account for their size and sheer talent. It is test after test after test. These games aren’t fail and die. They’re fail and learn.”
The season has started on the right foot for the men’s basketball team. But it’s just the beginning; how they perform in the final weeks of the fall semester will give Maroon and Grey fans a greater understanding of where Mac stands in the OUA landscape.