On Saturday, October 20 the UTM men’s varsity basketball team hosted their first game of the season against the Mohawk College Mountaineers. Our Eagles saw only two wins in their rough inaugural season in the OCAA the year before. UTM came to this game armed with an improved roster of new and familiar faces and residual excitement from the UTM women’s varsity basketball win against the Mountaineers just minutes prior. Despite a valiant effort to compete and through very physical play, the Eagles came up short, falling 93-96.

It was a sloppy start for our Eagles from tip-off. Missed layups and turnovers had them down early in the game. Back-to-back three-pointers by 2017 OCAA Rookie of the Year, Zamam Khan, and guard, Greg Roberts, brought UTM back into the game. At the end of the first quarter, UTM had tied the score at 24-24. It was a fast-paced game from tip-off to the sound of the final buzzer, points scoring back and forth. Neither team seemed able to gain much separation from the other. And despite physical and aggressive play, by both the Mountaineers and Eagles, the game was tied once again at the end of the second quarter.

Despite a strong finish to the first half, 48-48 going into halftime, UTM came out of the locker room the same way they started the game, with careless play to begin the third quarter. But not for long. Solid transition defense and a couple of three-pointers by Roberts and second-year guard, Kyle Boorman, the first assisted by Khan and the second by Roberts, gets UTM back into the contest. And in less than 30 seconds, UTM had their largest lead of the game and some much-needed drive to fight through the gritty play. Later in the quarter the Eagles struggled to play defence, and the Mountaineers took advantage. Suffocating man-to-man full court press, and an efficient offence resulting in a shower of three-pointers and layups, led to a near 10-point deficit to end the third quarter.

With the score at 90-95 in favour of the Mountaineers, and just seconds on the clock, the Eagles had to foul to stop time, in hopes of saving a little more time to close the gap. Fortunately, two free-throws are missed. Head Coach, Nkosi Adams, calls their final time-out, a strategy to advance the ball past half-court, giving his team an easier opportunity to score points in a hurry. Out of the time out, Roberts hits a 3-pointer to bring his team to be within two points of the opposition. But it’s not enough to take the game.

Roberts finishes with a game high of 40 points, with 5 made 3-pointers, 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Khan finishes just behind him, as the second highest scorer of the game, with 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

“Overall, I thought I had a good game. I started a little rough, but [I] settled as the game progressed,” says Roberts. “As a team, we did a good job competing. There were times we went down, but instead of staying down, we battled.”

Coach Adams had similar comments to make on his team’s performance. “It was definitely a tough loss, but I’m really happy with how the guys competed. That’s something we’ve been talking about since last season, actually competing in a game. Obviously, you want to come up with a win, but sometimes the ball rolls that way,” he says.

This is just the first regular season game for UTM, and first home-game of the season, and it was nothing short of exciting and a great effort. Coach Adams thinks his team will be more prepared for their next game, having learned from this loss. In terms of going forward through the rest of the season, “the sky’s the limit” says Roberts. He believes that mental focus will be his team’s key to success, especially when it comes to defence.

Our Eagles are scheduled to take to the hardwood again this coming Wednesday, October 24 at home. The Eagles take their potential and competitive energy against the top team in last year’s 2017/2018 OCAA Western Conference, the Redeemer Royals.