The Toronto Varsity Blues basketball teams went 1–1 against the Brock Badgers in their double-header home opener on Saturday, November 2. The women’s team lost in the first game, and the men’s claimed victory in the second.
The women’s side took the court first, seeking their first Ontario University Athletics (OUA) victory of the season, following a tough loss on the road the previous night to the York Lions.
Brock drew first blood in the opening quarter after a fast break layup by the Badgers’ Meagan Charbonneau in the second minute. The Blues responded, however, as Nada Radonjić connected from distance on back-to-back possessions. The Blues led by as many as five points in the quarter and held an 18–16 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Toronto continued to dictate the pace into the second quarter, throwing out an ever-changing concoction of aggressive zone, press, and defenses to frustrate Brock’s shooters. The Blues limited the Badgers to just one field goal over the first five minutes of the quarter, and turned defense into offense, where they got great looks off of penetration.
Christine Jurcau, tasked with the unenviable assignment of guarding OUA All-Star selection Melissa Tatti, held the star Badgers guard to just four points on three field goal attempts in the first half — far from Tatti’s typical average of 16.6 points per game. The halftime score was 34–30 in favour of Toronto.
Toronto forward Sarah Bennett — averaging a near double-double of 9.3 points and 8.5 boards per contest thus far in her comeback season from injury — was benched with her third foul just 10 seconds into the third quarter. The two teams traded buckets briefly before Radonjić pushed the Blues’ lead back to six with 7:10 minutes remaining on the clock by hitting back-to-back three-pointers.
However, the injury-plagued Blues, who have seen up to seven of their 16-woman roster sidelined at some point this season, showed signs of fatigue and inexperience later in the game, while Brock’s shooters were hitting shot after shot. The Badgers went four-for-four from a distance in the quarter, and went on an 11–0 run before Jurcau stopped the bleeding with only 4:59 minutes left in the quarter, sinking a pair of free throws. Unfortunately, that was the last of the Blues’ scoring for the period, and the Badgers pieced together a 12–0 run to make it 58–43 for the visiting Badgers after three quarters.
The Blues continued to fight into the final quarter but ultimately could not recover from the deficit. They cut the lead to as little as 11 points, with 7:26 minutes to play on a three-point basket by Jurcau. Unfortunately, Brock’s shooters could not be denied, hitting a blistering 64 per cent of their three-point attempts in the second half and 50 per cent of their field goals overall. The final score was 78–59 in favour of the visiting Badgers.
Radonjić posted a double-double with a team high of 20 points and a game high of 11 boards, while fellow veteran Bennett wound up with 14 points and seven boards. Fiorella Granda led the team in assists with four, and first-year forward Nakeisha Ekwandja was solid with six points and six boards in only 29 minutes of action. Jurcau was a workhorse for the Blues, logging a career-high 40 minutes on the night and contributing 10 points to the scoring spread.
“I thought we opened up the game with a lot more energy. We played pretty well; we shared the ball well,” noted Coach Michèle Bélanger after the game. “Defensively, we were really alert, we rebounded the ball well. We boxed out. So those were all really great positives.”
Jurcau said that she was “extremely proud” of her team’s efforts, commending the work of rookies Ekwandja and Sarah Cumby in particular. Jurcau sees room for improvement but has faith in the team’s promise.
“I think people are starting to step up more… We have moments and spurts where we show [promise]… we’re just not at that consistent spot yet… We’re still a fairly new team and [have] a lot of stuff to deal with already, like injuries, but I definitely think… slowly but surely, we’ll be working together very well,” explained Jurcau.
In the second game of the doubleheader, the Varsity Blues men’s basketball team bounced back from a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss the night before to take down the Brock Badgers in a stunning comeback fashion.
Daniel Johansson opened up the scoring for the home side 1:43 minutes into the first quarter with a three-point bucket, and the teams traded baskets for much of the quarter. The Badgers took a one-point lead heading into the second with the score at 14–13.
In the second quarter, the Badgers continued to gain easy buckets in the paint off of some clean back cuts and crisp ball movement, quietly increasing their lead to as much as nine points with only 5:22 minutes remaining on the clock before the home side caught fire. The Blues swung the momentum on the backs of a 9–0 run over the span of just 70 seconds into the quarter, as Elie Mouyal breathed life into teammates and fans alike with back-to-back three-pointers and rookie Alec McGregor added another three-ball on the next Blues possession. The Blues and Badgers once again kept the contest neck-and-neck, and the Badgers maintained a 36–35 lead at halftime.
Just 15 seconds into the third quarter, Toronto’s Eric Rwahaire accomplished a rare four-point play as he caught a cross-court pass from Evan Shadkami and connected from beyond the arc on the right wing, while being bumped and sent to the ground by his defender.
After Rwawhire hit the ensuing free-throw to put the Blues ahead with a score of 39–38, the Badgers went on a mini 6–0 run. Shadkami responded, hitting a triple with 7:17 minutes left in the period. However, the Blues’ shooting suddenly went cold, and Shadkami’s three pointer would be Toronto’s last field goal of the quarter. The Badgers held their largest lead of the game, 53–42, after three quarters of action.
The Blues found a second gear in the fourth, a testament to their veteran experience and leadership. Iñaki Alvarez and Shadkami respectively sunk a layup and a three-point shot on the Blues’ first two possessions to open the frame, and then Johansson made good on a crafty Eurostep through two Brock players in the low block to cut the lead to 53–49 with 8:29 minutes left to play.
The Blues threw out a stifling 1-2-2 match-up zone that proved to be highly effective, forcing the Badgers to turn the ball over and take contested, low-percentage outside shots. Some timely scoring from Anthony Daudu, Shadkami, and Johansson tied the game at 63 apiece, with only two minutes left in the game.
The Badgers clung to their 66–65 lead with under a minute left. Though, when they failed to convert, the Blues regained possession with 24 seconds left on the clock. The home squad would end up getting statistical contributions from every player that saw floor time, but in the end it was the Blues’ dynamic fifth-year duo that secured the victory for their team.
Johansson would sink the go-ahead basket with about 12 seconds remaining, a clutch face-up long range jumper near the top of the arc that sent the crowd into a frenzy and gave the Blues a 68–66 lead.
After Godsman Kwakwah threw up a prayer on the ensuing Badgers possession, it was none other than fellow fifth-year, floor general Chris Barrett — the smallest player on the court in stature, but clearly not in heart — secured the crucial rebound on the miss. Barrett was sent to the line to stop the clock and calmly drained both foul shots, icing the game and capping off 28 points for Toronto in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the final score was 70–66 for the Blues.
The win marked Toronto’s first OUA victory, moving them to 1-2, and was also their first win of the year over a nationally ranked team. Shadkami had a team-high 19 points, including five three-pointers, on 7–13 shooting from the field, and added five assists. Daniel Johansson added 18 points and eight boards, and the Blues got 18 of their 70 points from the bench.
Assistant Coach Mike De Giorgio was pleased with the team’s perseverance, noting that “last year, we kinda quit when we got down. And this year, when we [get] down, we [fight] back.” He noted, however, that the team will continue to work on being “more consistent with our effort… at the ‘smart things,’” including “trying to follow the game plan, trying hard to take the right shot, [and] not just the easy shot… really working hard at boxing out and going to get the ball.”
In addition to fifth-years Johansson and Barrett, the Blues are also enjoying the services of Division 1 transfer Eric Rwahwire, who De Giorgio has credited for vocal leadership on the court.