The head coach of the Lambton Lions men's basketball squad is hoping reinforcements in the second half of the season propel his team to another trip to the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) playoffs.
At the break, the Lions are 6-3 in conference play and tied for third place in the West Division, considered by many to be the toughest division in the country. They are 11-7 overall.
Lambton was ranked in the top 15 in the country before a couple of tough losses in late November, including an overtime loss to Niagara in which the Knights sent the game to extra time with a three-point shot from deep in the backcourt at the buzzer and then won it with a buzzer-beater in OT.
James Grant says playing a short bench, as he did in the first half of the season, is not sustainable down the stretch. He's hopeful as many as four new recruits will be able to suit up in the New Year.
“We knew heading into the first half that we were going to be a little understaffed,” he said. “We had some guys who needed to get their academics in order.”
Having a deeper bench should improve team defence and give his starters more time to rest during games, he said.
“Two of our three (conference) losses have been in the second half of a (weekend) doubleheader where we only had 12 hours to rest as a group,” Grant said. “By the time we reached the fourth quarter, they can't play defence anymore.”
Lambton will get a sense of where it stacks up in the OCAA East Division when it takes part in an East/West Showdown tournament this weekend at Niagara College in Welland. The Lions play Toronto's Seneca College Sting on Saturday, followed by a matchup with Belleville's Loyalist College Lancers on Sunday. Both those clubs are 5-4 in conference play this season.
Conference play resumes next month with the Lions hosting Fanshawe (0-9) and Redeemer (2-7) on January 13 and 23 respectively. But, Grant says, despite less than stellar records, his club can't take their first two opponents lightly.
“What I hope is that we have such a veteran group that they'll realize the importance of these two early (second half) games.”
He also says playing at home before a large and boisterous crowd, where the club is 5-1 overall this season, should be an advantage.
“I don't think there's a nook and cranny in the gym where you could fit another fan in. They're just everywhere,” said Grant. “It's pretty exciting with so many people there and I know the guys really appreciate it.”
Lambton’s women's basketball squad is tied for fifth in its division at the break with a record of 4-5.