Tonight’s McMaster at Brock tussle scheduled for 8 PM ET at the St. Catharines Meridian Center provides another showcase for CIS/OUA basketball in a beautiful venue well-sized for this type of game. Expect a crowd of greater than 3,000 assuming the weather holds out and hopefully a quick, fast-paced game typical of both teams given the relative lack of size and the strong athleticism both teams possess on the wings especially.
Marauders will try to avenge an 83-75 loss at home to the Badgers on the opening night of the season in November when Badgers took over in the third quarter beating Mac up on the glass – 20 offensive rebounds – and surprisingly got out and scored in transition, giving the Marauders a taste of their own medicine. Mac was shaken early in that game as 6’7″ Connor Gilmore, their emerging sophomore big who represents most of Mac’s quality rim protection and rebounding/size up front, went down in the very first minute with an ankle injury that changed the complexion of the game immediately.
Not only did Brock dominate inside, Badgers forced 23 turnovers in that game with their quickness and won despite losing three starters: Johnell Simpson, freshman guard Tyler Brown and Ryan Bennett to fouls. 6’8″ Matt Marshall, 15 points and 13 assists thrived in Gilmore’s absence while 6’5″ Dani Elgadi continued his fine early season play – at that time Brock was undefeated and many were touting Elgadi as an early Player-of-the-year candidate and he did not disappoint with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Fast forward to tonight and the Badgers are reeling somewhat as Elgadi has had an uneven second-half of the season, Simpson’s shot selection and offensive decision-making in general continues to elicit the occasional head-scratch and Brock’s depth continues to be questioned. Brock is just 4-4 in their past 8 games and had two decisive losses at home against Carleton and Brock plus a narrow OT win over Laurentian this past weekend. Good news for Brock is that they have been relatively healthy all season long and now have an emerging high end guard in the underrated Brown, a freshman from Hamilton who should have extra incentive to perform against his hometown school in a big game.
McMaster conversely has struggled with injuries leading to a different line-ups for many games this season: Gilmore, 6’3″ Rohan Boney, 6’1″ David McCulloch and 6’0″ Trevon McNeil – all solid top-of-the-rotation contributors – have all missed time during various parts of the season. McNeil was injured in the Ottawa game, playing only 2 minutes and came back off the bench Saturday against Laurentian so he should be ready for tonight. Gilmore, McCulloch and Boney all missed time in the first half so Marauders should be ready with a full line-up this evening.
The game is critical for both teams as the winner will take what, albeit without supporting Ph.D. analysis, would be a stranglehold on the #4 seed in the OUA RPI-based playoff seedings. 4th place results in a first-round bye and, maybe as importantly, home court advantage for a sudden death quarter-final game very likely against the #5 seed. Loser falls back into the quagmire of possibilities that include several other teams and depending upon subsequent results: both Mac and Brock finish their regular season on Friday and Saturday respectively at Guelph, could put tonight’s losing team down to a seed as low as #7.
Expect a wonderful show to be put on by Robert Hilson and the gang at Brock U. and let’s hope the Niagara Region supports a sell-out crowd on the way back to the glory days of OUA basketball in Southern Ontario when 8-10,000 fans at Copps Coliseum for championship events was common place.