Fourth time unlucky
By Alex Chiang
It was truly a daunting task trying to find a member of the Western men's basketball team who wasn't fighting back his emotions, but it was understandable after the ordeal the players had just undergone.
Last Friday the Mustangs traveled to Toronto in search of the OUAA West division title and the national playoff berth that came with it, but they ran into an old nemesis, losing in the semifinals to Guelph 83-77.
It really shouldn't have been a game in light of Western's horrendous first half. The team shot a mere 32 per cent from the field, while Guelph made half of its attempts. In addition, the Gryphons were a flawless six for six from three-point land, including two treys by forward Charles Yearwood who is not known for his perimeter shooting.
"It's tough when a guy like Yearwood makes shots he's not supposed to," Western coach Craig Boydell said. "People who weren't scorers for them made their shots. That really hurt us."
Yearwood lead his team with 21 points. Not to be outdone was Guelph's other big man, Paul Eldridge, who scored 18 of his own. Eldridge showed tremendous mobility and athleticism for his size, effectively taking away Western's forte, the inside game.
The Mustangs' big guns struggled all day to find the basket. Divisional all-star Chris Webber, who was four for 18 from the field, finished with 13 points and co-captain Brendan Noonan had only three points, both well below their season averages. Noonan had a rough day dealing with Guelph's defence, turning the ball over seven times.
It was with sheer pride and determination that the purple and white fought back from the 15-point halftime deficit to narrow Guelph's lead to four points with a minute remaining. From that point, it was Guelph's free-throw shooting that warded off the Mustang charge.
"We missed a lot of our shots in the first half but we were definitely not lacking in emotion," Boydell said. "The guys showed tremendous character coming back in the second half putting us in a position to win the ball game."
The comeback was directed by Jonathan Dingle, who led both teams in scoring with 25 points. After the game, Dingle expressed the disappointment of having the season come to an end.
"I don't know if the pressure got to us in the first half, but we have a veteran team so it was probably something else," he said. "This was one of the finest teams I've ever played on."
Dingle was unsure whether he will be back with the team next season, one that may be decimated by departures should Noonan, Webber, Blake Gage, Nigel Rawlins, Hugh Bell and Jason Meskis all decide to hang up their jerseys.
In their three previous encounters, Guelph had squeezed by the Mustangs each time, so it was no surprise that these two evenly-matched opponents put on a great performance.
"People can flip a coin every time we play each other," Guelph head coach Tim Darling said. "Today we got the breaks and made the shots that we haven't been able to make all year."
It was Boydell though, who summed the game up the best.
"I don't think you'll ever see another game with as much intensity throughout."
BUT I'LL DRIVE THE LANE LIKE I WAS EVAN BERNARD. Chris Webber couldn't help the Mustang cause with his inside game. Guelph rejected the team's championship hopes.