By Gabriel Rodrigues
As the Laurentian men’s basketball team reaches the half way point of the OUA season, their coach believes the first half of the campaign provided his players with “a learning experience.”
“It took us sometime to figure out how this group of guys were going to work together,” said Shawn Swords. “We played well against the big teams like Ottawa, Carleton and Ryerson, who are ranked one, two and three in the country, but in other games, we didn’t do that good of a job and struggled a little bit.”
So far, the Voyageurs have posted a 4-7 record in 11 games, and currently sit third with the last playoff spot, in the OUA North division ahead of the winless Nipissing Lakers (0-10).
Offensively, third-year player Sam Hirst, who is averaging 16.1 points per game, leads the Voyageurs.
Ryan Bennett and Tychon Carter-Newman have also been a major influence for Laurentian, as the two are averaging 15.8 and 15.6 points per game.
The Voyageurs’ schedule has already seen Laurentian lose against the CIS top four ranked teams in the nation, which include the Ottawa Gee-Gees (11-0), Carleton Ravens (10-1), Ryerson Rams (10-2), and the McMaster Marauders (9-3).
Although the Voyageurs have competed against some of Canada’s top ranked squads, Swords said the other teams they have lost against like York, Guelph and Lakehead are games his team should be winning.
“We are right there with the best teams,” said Swords. “And we need to continue to have that kind of effort all the way through the season. Against teams like York, Guelph and Lakehead, it seemed like our heads weren’t in it, and that hurt us. To win games against them you have to make sure you are matching their intensity. They are physical teams, but I don’t think we were ready to do what it takes to win games just yet.”
Despite Laurentian lacking a certain intensity level throughout some of their seven losses this season, Swords said his team has improved in their last three games, which saw the Voyageurs defeat Queen’s on Jan. 10, 85-76, lose by three points, 83-80, to McMaster on Jan. 16 and beat Brock the following night, on Jan. 17, 89-81.
“We need to play like that every single game,” he said. “That is exactly where I want their intensity to be, and we really worked hard in those games. It was a great effort and really showed me that this group doesn’t worry about who they are playing but simply worrying about themselves and how they are performing as a team.”
Swords admits his team has struggled in trying to find their identity on the offensive side of the court, as they sit 14th in the OUA with average of 71.1 points per game, but said the Voyageurs have done “a better job” defensively this season than in year’s past.
“It’s been hard trying to find a balance between the two,” he said. “Our half-court defense has improved and if we can play that way with some of the better teams, it will definitely help us moving forward and trying to get the outcomes we want. It’s tough having a half-court defensive game because it’s harder to get quick shots off the transition.”
With playoffs just around the corner, Swords said his team must make sure they’re trying their “absolute hardest” to win its last eight remaining games.
“That way we are setting ourselves in good position going into the playoffs,” he said. “Our defense has gotten a lot better and teams are scared to play us. Also, our offense is a little more spread out so they are unaware who they should be shutting down, so we will see how far we can get.”
To catch the Voyageurs live, Laurentian’s next home game will be against the Nipissing Lakers on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 8:00 p.m. at the Ben F. Avery Gymnasium.