Photo By: Jonah Dayton

In front of a sold-out Bob Davis Gym on Wednesday night, the Brock Badgers men’s basketball team began the OUA season with a big 98-77 win over the Laurier Golden Hawks in what was their first regular season game in over 19 months. 

Like most nights, it was an extremely balanced effort from Brock, who had five players score double figures. The Badgers were led by 15 points from Godsman Kwakwah, Daniel Caldwell, and Asare Otchere — each of whom tacked on seven-plus rebounds — 14 points from Daniel Cayer, who also had a game-high eight assists, and 12 from Isaiah Bujdoso.

“We had the exhibition games, so that helped find a rhythm with our team,” said Bujdoso. “A big thing with us though, win or lose, we’re just trying to get better every game. [Head coach Willy Manigat] has been great with that, and he pushes us everyday to get better.”

The Badgers showed flashes of just how good this team can be on the defensive end in the first half, holding the Golden Hawks to just 29 first half points, before letting things slip a little later on as Laurier put up 48 in the second. The Golden Hawks will only go as far as their superstar, Ali Sow, takes them, so it’s no wonder that the main difference between halves one and two was Sow’s offensive production.

The Badgers did a phenomenal job on Sow in the first half, holding him to just four points on 2-6 shooting, before he came out to torch the Badgers for 26 in the second half off 10-15 shooting to give him his usual 30 on the night. While the Badgers already had the game wrapped up by the time he exploded, Manigat knows his team can’t let the score dictate their effort. 

“The first half we were committed to playing defence, but we didn’t do what we did in the first half in the second because we got comfortable and complacent,” he said. “Those are the things that we’re learning as a basketball team and that takes time to grow and understand that there’s 40 minutes of a basketball game. We just didn’t apply the same pressure we did in the first half in the second half against [Sow].”

Bujdoso, who was assigned to Sow for several chunks of the game, said they’ll look to clean things up ahead of Saturday’s rematch against Sow and the Hawks.

“We just try to force him weak, load up on him, and make him get rid of the ball,” said Bujdoso. “He’s a great scorer, and we did a decent job in the first half but he got a little loose in the second half. We’ll look to fix it up on Saturday.”

Bujdoso is just one of many new additions brought in by Manigat and his staff who had an impact last night; the energy and athleticism brought by bigs Asare Otchere and Jordan Tchuente had a profound effect on both ends of the floor. Aside from electrifying the crowd with big-time blocks and dunks, they give Brock a pair of rim-runners who can outjump and outrun most of their clunkier counterparts.

“Those guys are great, they obviously add a component that we didn’t have in the past,” said Manigat. “But I think our whole team is new and everyone we have added brings something of their own to the table and those two are just parts of the puzzle. We’re excited to have them — they’re young guys that we’re going to have for our future — and they’re giving us great minutes and great energy and we just have to build off that.”

Another “new” addition for the Badgers was the long-awaited debut of Emmanuel Owootoah, who finally played his first regular season game in a Brock uniform after transferring from Carleton in the summer of 2019. Owootoah missed the entire 2019-20 season dealing with a foot injury, and then the 2020-21 season was cancelled due to COVID-19. Suffice it to say it’s been a long time coming for the 5’11 guard, who made the most of his 16 minutes of action last night. Owootoah, who was also banged up during the preseason, saw numerous shorter stints as he worked his way back into game shape.

“Just his first game of the season, just easing him back into the fold and getting his lungs and conditioning in,” said Manigat. “We were just trying to get him some spot minutes and Isaiah [Bujdoso] was also in foul trouble which extended some of those minutes, but he’s been practicing now for weeks so for him this is just a step in a positive direction.”

Speaking of being banged up, Kascius Small-Martin looked to have tweaked something in his leg, playing just two minutes in the second half before exiting the game, but Manigat says he doesn’t believe it to be too serious.

Prior to his injury, Small-Martin was excellent — both scoring and distributing — as were the other returnees, Kwakwah, Cayer, and Caldwell. Oftentimes when the pace became sporadic, Cayer was able to slow things down and get a halfcourt bucket to sort of reset the offence. Defensively, his ability to hedge ball screens and then recover back to his man in time did wonders for slowing down Laurier’s halfcourt action.

“Definitely having [Cayer’s] presence and leadership on the court and being able to calm us down at times and play through him is definitely an added bonus,” said Manigat. “But at the same time, we also have Kascius [Small-Martin], we have Godsman [Kwakwah], we have Caldwell, we have guys that know what they’re doing and we’re just trying to bring everybody into the fold and understand this is a brand new team. This is really the first year of our program, of being the program that we want it to be, and we’re trying to build it one step at a time and we’ll figure it out from there.”

The Badgers will head to Waterloo for a rematch with the Golden Hawks this Saturday at 6 p.m, before heading out to Thunder Bay for back-to-back games against Lakehead next weekend. Games will be free to stream on OUA.tv.