The weekend’s road trip to Toronto spelled disaster for the men’s basketball team when they dropped Friday night’s game to the 6-6 University of Toronto Varsity Blues 68-58 and lost leading scorer Mitch Leger to a potentially season-ending knee injury only three minutes into the game. The sour weekend finished with Saturday afternoon’s 82-65 loss to the 6-6 Ryerson Rams, dropping the Gaels’ record to 6-7.
They sit fifth in the eight-team OUA East.
Leger said that the initial diagnosis by the University of Toronto on-site medical staff made the injury seem worse than it was.
“After it first happened, the U of T people thought it was a partially torn MCL,” he said. “The news is better than it could have been. I don’t need surgery. It’s a second degree strain on my MCL. … I’ll be out 4-6 weeks. Best case scenario, I’ll be back for playoffs, but I’ll probably just start training for next year.”
As for the team handling the loss, Leger said the experience of losing starters last year will have prepared the team to pick up without too much concern.
“They’ll be okay,” he said. “We lost Ryan [Hairsine] for the whole season last year so it’s not the first time our starts have been out. This is a really tough weekend to be out, against the top two teams in the country, but the older guys like Ryan and Baris [Ondul] will pick up the load.”
Assistant coach Duncan Cowan said the weekend’s performances were not up to the team’s standards.
“I think on the whole it was a pretty disappointing weekend,” he said. “We were in games with teams we’re close to in the league. We played without Mitch [against Toronto]. For the first 37 minutes we were great. We came out on the short end and had some things to smile about. But the guys didn’t show up on Saturday. They gave us the gears and the game was over at halftime.”
The loss of Leger will be difficult for the team, Cowan said, because he does more for the team than just putting up consistently high numbers.
“Obviously, he’s one of the better players in the country and that’s a lot to make up on its own,” he said. “He makes everyone a lot better and creates open shots for the team because other teams need to double-cover him. When you remove him from the offence, it hampers our ability to score.”
The Gaels had a particularly rough outing against Ryerson, allowing 43 points by the halftime mark and scoring only 16. Cowan said the team’s panicky offence was its undoing.
“Ryerson’s an extremely physically talented team,” he said. “With Mitch gone, they took advantage and put up a lot of pressure. The guys started to struggle to score and they panicked, which you can’t do. It was a combination of bad defence and bad offence. We’ll have to score more points than that to be successful.”
Gaels’ guard Baris Ondul, who put up 19 points and three rebounds against the University of Toronto and added six points and one rebound against Ryerson, said losing Leger was the nail in the weekend’s coffin.
“The first game, it was about Mitch,” he said. “We played a pretty tough game but they made their run to make the difference at the end of the game and we couldn’t match it. Second game, it was a poor defensive effort in the first half and just a bad game.”
Even with Leger out, though, Ondul sees the opportunity for the Gaels to step up and salvage the season.
“It’s a big loss,” he said. “It’s our primary scoring and rebounding. But it’s time to show our stuff and time for everyone to show what they’re made of.”
The Gaels face the second-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees Friday night and the top-ranked Carleton Ravens Saturday. Game time is 8 p.m. both nights.
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