Having only lost twice all year, the Badgers season didn’t end the way they wanted it too. With an undefeated record versus their own division and an all but guaranteed number two rank in the nation, all the Badgers had to do was beat an average Windsor Lancers team to finish on a 13 game win streak.
However, the Lancers played with lights out shooting – 16 threes for the game – to defeat the Badgers 96-83. The game also saw Badgers head coach Charles Kissi ejected after receiving two technical fouls in the late minutes of the fourth.
“Its one game of 24, I remind people that we’re 21-3,” said Kissi.
Over the last three seasons the Badgers have posted a 34-4 record against OUA West teams. With the talent on their roster and the dominance over their own division, the expectations have been to see the Badgers in the OUA Final Four.
They’ll have an opportunity to reach the final four for the second straight season tonight when they play the Laurier Golden Hawks in a quarter-final matchup. It’s the second time in three seasons the two have met in the playoffs, with the Badgers winning 98-80 in 2016, but this season the two have played in two tightly contested games.
In October the Badgers won 80-70, but in late January the Golden Hawks looked much improved only losing to Brock by 4. The Hawks are also coming off a 102-76 win over McMaster in the opening round of the playoffs, in which they were led by their two young guards Tevaun Kokko and Ali Sow, combining for 45 points.
In two games against Brock, Sow has averaged 22.5 points and in his lone game against Brock in January, Kokko only scored eight, but is averaging 19.3 points for the season.
“Like everyone else, the three ball,” said Kissi when asked what the Badgers had to take away from Sow and Kokko. “We defend the three better than anyone in our league. We need to continue to do that, and when we don’t Windsor [showed us] what happens when we don’t do that.”
He also cited that it’ll be a team effort defending the two Hawk players, but didn’t mention who would start for the Badgers. For Laurier, Sow came off the bench for 20 games and the Badgers have recently shifted to having Johneil Simpson come off the bench and rookie Kascius Small-Martin starting in his place.
Although Kissi hasn’t made up his mind about his starters, he did smile when Simpson’s splits as a starter versus coming off the bench were mentioned.
In 15 games as a starter, Simpson averaged 29.9 minutes, 14.3 points, shot 41.5 per cent from the field and 38.1 per cent from three. In nine games off the bench, Simpson averages about seven minutes less and scoring about one point better, but is 54.1 per cent from the field and 46.8 per cent from three.
The Badgers aren’t looking too far ahead, as they know tonight’s game isn’t one to overlook if they want to secure their berth to the Final 8. All season the Badgers have said they don’t want to leave their chances up to the committee for a second straight year.
“We’re not even banking on that,” said Kissi. “We learned our lesson last year. We are going to try to win our way to the Final 8.”
A loss to end the season might have been the motivation the Badgers needed to get the job done. With the best season historically for the program now complete, the Badgers quest to their first Final 8 berth since 2008 begins tonight.
It won’t be easy with a young Golden Hawks team in town, but the Badgers will need to come out as the stronger team in the first quarter. If they don’t, they’ll be in trouble.