After beginning the 2015-16 season on the road for the first four OUA season games, the Brock Badgers returned home on Nov. 27 for their home opener versus the Lakehead Thunderwolves. It was one of the most anticipated home openers Brock has had in a long-time as the women Badgers continued their reign as the number seven ranked team in CIS basketball, and the men also remained as the fourth best team in the country three weeks into the season.
Both teams entered the Friday contest at a 3-1 record. The women dropped their season opener to McMaster and came into the home opener with a three game win streak. While the men opened the season with a three game win streak, and took a shocking loss to Queen’s last Saturday.
The women opened the Friday evening contest with a strong 13-4 run led by Kate Harpur, who finished the first quarter with 10-points on a perfect five of five shooting. It was a very back and forth contest between the Badgers and Thunderwolves, as Lakehead would answer with a 9-3 run of their own. The Badgers held a small 22-19 lead after the first quarter. Harpur would finish the game with her second double-double of the season with 14-points and 15-rebounds.
In the second, the Thunderwolves turned to playing a two-three zone. The zone is something Brock head coach Si Khounviseth admitted is one of the areas of the game that his team is working towards improving.
“That’s the biggest struggle right now,” said Khounviseth. “Tonight we were a little rattled by the zone and didn’t do a good job adjusting.”
The Thunderwolves would open the second quarter on a 7-1 run, but it would be the Badgers with the last momentum shift as Kayla Santilli’s strong three point shooting sparked the Badgers. Santilli would hit back to back three’s before Melissa Tatti and Jenalyn Yumol would add a three each as well.
Tied at 37 heading into the second half, the Badgers found themselves once again struggling to find the hoop. It was another 7-0 run by the Thunderwolves, before Kira Cornelissen ended that run with the Badgers first basket of the third quarter coming almost seven minutes into the frame. It was a basket that sparked the Badgers to their own 7-2 run, and an unreal buzzer beater by Becky Ralph that gave the Badgers a 52-50 lead into the final quarter.
To begin the fourth the Badgers and Thunderwolves would trade baskets, but the momentum belonged to the Badgers for the final minutes. Second year guard Melissa Tatti had her best game of the season as she was able to see her shot fall at a much more consistent rate. Tatti finished the game leading the team in scoring with 18-points, going four of 10 from beyond the arc.
“It feels like I’m back,” said Tatti. “I felt like I lost myself for a bit, but I feel better now. We [as a team] have each other’s backs and we play off each other’s energy, and that’s a big thing.”
The Badgers would go onto winning the game 73-64 and improving to 4-1 on the season. The Thunderwolves are now 3-4 in OUA play. Santilli picked up her first double-double of the young season grabbing 10-rebounds and scoring 15-points on six of 12 shooting.
“I think we came out strong, but lost focus and [Lakehead] just took it to us for the next two and a half quarters,” said Khounviseth. “In the fourth quarter we stuck to what we wanted to do and that’s what made the comeback possible – we started playing our game.”
The men’s game saw a much more packed and rowdy crowd, which ended up playing a major factor at the end of the game.
Both teams began the game trading baskets throughout the first quarter. A late three ball from the Badgers Dani Elgadi gave the Badgers a 20-18 lead after the first quarter. The Badgers would grow their lead in the second, before the Thunderwolves found themselves on a run to cut the lead to four at halftime.
Elgadi was one rebound shy of his fifth double-double of the season after the first half. He had 18 points to lead the Badgers and nine rebounds. He would finish the game with a season high 28-points and 15-rebounds, but he did not have a single rebound in the third quarter.
In the third, the Thunderwolves would do everything to keep the game close. It was enough to allow them to rally and give themselves a 58-56 lead after the third.
One of the key factors for the Badgers and head coach Charles Kissi was the matchup game. Kissi played multiple different lineups throughout the game. One of the lineups that stood out was the Badgers going with both their point guards Nolan Mackenzie and Tyler Brown on the court. Mackenzie spent all of preseason dealing with an injury, so Kissi was finally able to use Mackenzie and Brown on the court together.
“We wanted to see how that looked like just to give a different look,” said Kissi regarding the guard-duo on the court together.
The Badgers also gave the Thunderwolves leading scorer Henry Tan different defensive matchups throughout the game. For the most part Kissi stuck with Johneil Simpson guarding the Thunderwolves point guard.
“I think the length was good for us, so [Simpson] did a pretty good job,” said Kissi. “[Tan] is one of the best players in our league, without a question. He played every minute of the game and you wouldn’t know he was tired.”
Tan showed he truly is one of the better players in the league, finishing the game with a team high 24-points on eight of 26 shooting.
In the fourth, the Badgers didn’t find life till mid-quarter when Simpson knocked down a mid-range jumper and after a Thunderwolves miss, Simpson would give the Badgers a big three to extend the Badgers lead.
The game would continue to be a back and forth grind, but down 76-73 Tan would hit a huge three-pointer from almost six feet behind the line to tie the game with a second left. The Badgers would miss their opportunity to end the game, sending the game to overtime.
Before the extra five minutes could get started, the Thunderwolves head coach Manny Furtado (who heard “Manny” chants from the crowd all game) would complain to the referees about the home crowd. Furtado was overheard saying that the Badger crowd was being abusive toward him, but it was something the referees would shrug off as they did many of Furtado’s other complaints.
The overtime would see both team’s trade baskets and turnovers till the two-minute mark when Elgadi would knock down two free throws, and both teams would go the rest of the quarter scoreless. Six points in the overtime were enough to give the Badgers an 82-80 win and improve the teams record to 4-1.
Matt Marshall added a double-double as well for the Badgers with 17-points and 12-rebounds. Simpson added 13-points as well and Ryan Bennett contributed with 10 for the Badgers.
“We were much better when calls didn’t go our way,” said Kissi. “I should have fouled when up three [in the fourth], so I have to be better [Saturday] so our guys can do better.”
In terms of the Thunderwolves issues with the crowd Kissi had the following to say, “[It] means our crowd is doing what our crowd is supposed to do. I think it also just speaks to the fact that we don’t have enough crowds like that in this league.”
The two teams will meet again Saturday night at the Meridian Centre in St. Catharines, which is being called the biggest sporting event in Brock history – over 2,000 people are expected to be in attendance.
The women’s game between the Badgers and Thunderwolves gets started at 5:00 p.m. and the men’s game is set to tip-off at 7:00 p.m.