On a cold Friday night, students flocked to the newly opened Goldring Centre for High Performance Athletics for its grand opening game.
The facility, built this year for the Pan-American games, is also the new home of the Varsity Blues men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball teams, among other sports. Although it was finished in early November, the Goldring Centre had its official opening on Friday night, during the Blues men’s basketball home opener against the Nipissing Lakers.
Both teams came into the game looking to rebound from losing records. The Varsity Blues (1-3) were going into the game in third place in the East Division, and Nipissing (0-2) was looking to move up from fourth in the North Division. The atmosphere in the new centre was very excited as the teams took the court.
The game began at a very fast pace, with both teams playing a very strong defence. Both teams turned the ball over several times and missed multiple chances before Nipissing opened the scoring 1:40 into the game.
Toronto was playing well but struggled to score until 4:19, when Devin Johnson got a quick layup and foul to get Toronto on the board. This sent the Blues on a 10-point run that gave them an early 10-5 lead.
The scoring picked up, with both teams going back and forth, but neither team was able to build a solid lead. Nipissing ended the quarter with a couple of baskets to finish with a 16-12 lead.
The second quarter picked up on the momentum of the first, with both teams continuing to go back and forth. Neither team led by more than four points, and the lead changed six times in the quarter. The teams went up and down the court very quickly and both were very aggressive in the paint. As the first half wound down, the scoring slowed down, and it ended with Nipissing leading 30-29.
As the second half began, both teams came out ready to fight for the win.
The half started with both teams shooting three-pointers and a couple of fast breaks, but neither team was able to pull away. Halfway through the quarter, Toronto found a rhythm and took the lead with a 6-0 run, only to see Nipissing respond with a run of their own to stay within one point at 47-46.
But the Varsity Blues would not let up, and they finally built a lead in the last three minutes with a 10-3 run. Denis Ankrah capped off the quarter for the Blues by shooting three points with seven seconds left in the quarter to finish 57-49 for Toronto.
Ankrah started the final quarter with another one of his five three-pointers of the night, and Toronto picked up where they left off. The crowd was very excited as the Blues took control of the game on offence and defence. Even so, as the game wound down, the teams lost intensity.
The Lakers made a late push, but Toronto’s lead was too wide, and the game ended with Toronto getting the 72-59 win.
Denis Ankrah put in a fantastic performance, shooting nine of the 10 field goals and five three-pointers.
“I just try not to miss shots,” said Ankrah, a third-year kinesiology major. “I know I’m a big part of this team—when I’m playing well we usually play well. So I try to contribute in any way I can.”
Ankrah believes that the Blues’ shooting made the difference in the second half. “We know we have good shooters, and in the first half our shots weren’t falling, but in the second half we started to get more,” he said.
Head coach John Campbell, who’s entering his second season with the team, knows there’s still a lot of work ahead for the players.
“It’s going to be a real challenge,” he said. “We’re a team with a small margin for error, so we need to play the best we can.”
Campbell thinks the support they receive from fans is key. “It was a great atmosphere for our players to play [today],” he said. “The crowd was not only large, but engaged, which helped the players lose some of their nervous energy.”
The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team also played spectacularly in their earlier game against the Nipissing women, thrashing the Lakers 73-23.
The men’s squad is now 2-4 after a 64-67 loss to the Laurentian Voyageurs on Saturday. After back-to-back home games this weekend, the team will go on a short road trip, playing two games against Carleton and Ottawa next weekend and then breaking until the new year.
The Blues will play their next home game on January 7 against Ryerson.