By Chris Roberts
It hasn’t been the start many expected for the Lakeland College Rustlers men’s basketball team.
After an overhaul of last year’s 20-0 team, though with a few key returning players, the Rustlers have stumbled out of the gate this season to a 2-4 record, having lost three in a row.
“I’m not used to sitting with a three-game losing streak, and it certainly doesn’t sit very well with me,” said the team’s head coach, Tom Groat. “And I think the guys are aware of that, it doesn’t sit very well with them either.”
The Rustlers dropped a pair of games on the road last weekend, losing 76-71 to Olds College and 87-83 to SAIT Polytechnic. The two losses continued a trend for the Rustlers, as they continue to score at will, but haven’t been able to get stops on defence when they need it. They lead the entire ACAC in points per game, but they’re also last in points against.
“We’re going to have to tighten it up on the defensive side of things, we’ve been talking about that since the first weekend of basketball,” said Groat, adding that the team has been practising defence for at least half of every practice.
Groat mentioned that his team had chances to win most, if not all, of the games they had lost, but were unable to make plays in the final minutes. With nine rookies on the team, he attributes that to youth and inexperience, something last year’s team never had a problem with.
Returning forward Trent Bloch-Hansen, who is in his fifth season with the Rustlers, agreed with Groat.
“That just happens with a rookie team, inexperience when it comes down to that final minutes of the game,” said Bloch-Hansen. “We just need to get guys all on the same page, running the plays that we’ve set out to execute down the line when it comes close like that.
“We’ve gone over game film, we’ve looked at what we need to work on, and we just need to execute it in practice.”
The Rustlers will host Grant MacEwan University (3-4) on Friday, a team that is coached by one of Groat’s former players, Eric Magdanz.
Magdanz, who is from Lloydminster, played for Groat’s Lloyd Comp. Barons in the mid-2000’s before heading to McMaster University.
“They’re going to be well coached, and if I was any sort of mentor to him as he was growing up and as he’s gone into his coaching career, I know that his guys are going to be well drilled and ready to play ball,” said Groat. “We’ve got to meet that challenge.”
In a 20-game season, every game is equally important, and if the Rustlers are going to be a playoff team, they’ll need to at least end their losing streak Friday night.
“We’d definitely like to get our next game on Friday, for sure. Start there, bonus would be winning on Saturday as well to get that momentum to start another streak,” said Bloch-Hansen.
Tip-off for Friday’s game is 8 p.m. following the women’s game, which goes at 6 p.m.