Big test in enemy territory
Assistant Sports Editor
For a young lineup with plenty to learn and even more to prove, the prognosis of being a young team too often provides the excuses to justify mistakes, a stipulation McMaster head coach Amos Connolly has been avoiding all season.
With a record of 9-3 so far this season, those excuses haven’t often been necessary. However, after suffering two of their three overall losses in the last four contests, a reality of inexperience is beginning to set in for this year’s team.
“For our young guys, the big things are going well. It is the little things like sleep and diet that can be so easily overlooked that can slowly have a negative impact,” said coach Amos Connolly this week. “What great basketball players do – experienced veterans – is take care of the little things. It is very easy to slip and allow for bad habits to develop.”
To make the learning curve even steeper, the Marauders will travel to Thunder Bay this weekend to take on the CIS no. 2 Lakehead Thunderwolves.
The Road trip, which will be played at the Thunder Dome on Friday and Saturday, will be the most difficult test thus far for Mac, save for a season opener with the no. 2 Carleton Ravens. In order to succeed, Connolly believes his team will need to play to their strength.
“We need to acknowledge our advantages including our depth and that we are more mobile at the big positions. But going into what is easily the toughest place to play in the country, I think for us the most important thing is to worry less about Lakehead and focus more on ourselves,” said Connolly, who said his team could do to act with a little more confidence.
“I don’t know if our team believes they can play with the teams yet. They say they do but intimidation seems to be a factor out there.”
The Thunderwolves, tied for second in the OUA with a record of 10-2, are a formidable opponent and one of the strongest that Mac will face all year. Expecting to lose one or both of the games, however, is not an attitude that Connolly is ready to let spread around his locker room.
“We need to go there expecting to win. There is a lot of talk that we are going there to fight for a split, at best. I don’t look at it that way. Everyone thinks because Lakehead is so talented, before the game has even started, that we would be happy with a split. We want to win two games,” said the second year head coach.
Refining both the play on the court and attitude of his players is not something that Connolly or any coach for that matter can hope to accomplish without a player who leads by example.
For this season’s team, third-year player Victor Raso, who scored 29 points in last week’s win on the road against the Brock Badgers, has set a tone of dedication and commitment for the rest of the team.
“He is doing the things that young guys need to learn to do. How you should show up everyday. How you should watch film. How you should commit to strength and conditioning. How you should commit to your diet. All of those little details that make a big difference,” said Connolly of the 6’3” Raso.
“[Raso] has really embodied what it takes to become a player at this level. He has made himself a CIS basketball player.”
For this team, the day-to-day approach of veterans like Raso will make all the difference in the end result of this season. With pertinence to the weekend, Connolly says the squad seems to be making the best of their prep time
“Last night was one of the best practices of our year. For our team, it is very much a one game at a time mentality. But it’s a unique situation to be playing the same team on back-to-back nights. It allows for your preparation to be a little different.”