On Nov. 16, in the basement of the University of Ottawa’s athletic centre, stood a basketball team without any answers. The Marauders walked out of the locker room after a long post-game meeting with blank looks on every player’s face. The only words spoken were thank-you’s for the parents who had made the six-hour venture to the nation’s capital. To each other, the players didn’t have anything to say.
McMaster had just been handled. The Ottawa Gee-Gees ran all over them, 82-64. Taylor Black, the focal point of Mac’s offense, only played nine minutes after drawing two fouls within the first 20 seconds of the game. The team never appeared to stand a chance, despite expectations of a dogfight. Warren Ward, a fifth-year guard and the face of Ottawa’s athletic program, dominated on both ends of the court. As the players re-entered the gym for their cool down routine, you could see this was the low point of a season only three games old.
That night and that game saw a different team than the one sporting the Maroon and Grey right now. But over the past month, McMaster has turned their season around. A rout of the no. 7 ranked team in the nation. A second-place finish at a national tournament. A four-game winning streak.
Ask any Marauder if they could see this happening after the Nov. 16 game and they probably wouldn’t answer you. The honest answer was no.
Now, McMaster sits in third of the OUA West, with a 6-6 record. The toughest part of their schedule is behind them and McMaster has seized the opportunity against weaker opponents.
However, to claim the quality of opponent as the reason for McMaster’s success would be underselling the collective efforts of the members of the team. The Marauders are a changed team, dissimilar to that of the 2012 season.
“The culture is much more positive. The guys are believing in each other and in themselves,” said coach Amos Connolly of his troop’s new mentality.
Culture is the buzzword for this team. With such a young squad, often playing entire line-ups with only one player on the court past second-year, instilling a culture is important. Connolly has been pushing a culture of effort and consistency for his crew, and they’ve accepted the message.
The credit for the mental transition cannot be given completely to the coaching staff, and the head coach will be the first to admit it.
“Scott Laws, Nathan Pelech and Taylor Black have figured out how to be consistent,” Connolly said of his veteran players.
And the consistency has trickled down. Second-year guard Joe Rocca has struggled to maintain his scoring output from the wing – until now.
Rocca is averaging 17.2 points over the last five games, which earned him a spot in the starting line-up. The Communications student points to a more positive locker room environment as the reason for not only his own play, but the performance of the team as well.
“We found our identity. Moving into the second half of the season, we’ve focused on what we were doing wrong in the first half of this season,” says Joe Rocca. “Being such a young team, we just had to find ourselves. Guys stepped into roles they weren’t expecting to be filling.”
McMaster has shown the ability to learn quickly, which can only be healthy for the future. The night after the Ottawa loss, McMaster came out and dropped 92 points, the most conceded by the CIS Champion Carleton Ravens in over a decade. If the Marauders can respond to negative situations like they did in November, the ceiling for this squad is unknown.
Not only for 2013 season, but for seasons to come.