March 26, 2022

Article at Ontario University Athletics

View original

Banner Season: Badgers, Gaels bring basketball battle to Brock with Wilson Cup on the line

Burlington, Ont. (via David DiCenzo) – The OUA men’s basketball landscape hasn’t had many seismic shifts over the past 20 years. It’s appropriate that in a year of sports rebirth, two new teams will have the opportunity to earn a championship banner that has often ended up in the provincial capital by the season’s end.

2021-22 Wilson Cup Championship | Fan Guide

The Queen’s Gaels and Brock Badgers will fight for that right when they meet in the Wilson Cup final at the Bob Davis Gymnasium on Saturday, March 26. The championship matchup tips off at 4 pm, with the game to be broadcast on

The Queen’s Gaels come to St. Catharines ranked No. 9 in the nation, on the heels of two impressive postseason victories. The playoff run maybe seemed unlikely given that Queen’s stalled down the stretch of the OUA regular season, dropping their final three games. But head coach Stephan Barrie knew his team was capable of rising to the occasion, thanks in part to the sibling guard tandem of Luka and Cole Syllas, both third-year arts and science majors.

Cole was named an OUA first team all-star after leading the Gaels with 19.4 points per game, while also pacing the team in both rebounds (9.2) and steals (1.8). Luka was critical to his team’s success, contributing solid numbers throughout the year with per game averages of 12.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. The dangerous backcourt was further stabilized by fifth-year star Quinton Gray, a second team all-star selection who led Queen’s with 3.2 assists per game, while adding 17.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest.

The Gaels shook off their three-game losing streak with a strong 69-59 opening-round win over the Nipissing Lakers. Four Queen’s players hit double-digits, including a team-high 21 points from Cole Syllas. In the OUA East semifinal, Queen’s met up with the nationally-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees, who finished 13-3 in the regular season to earn a first round bye. The Gaels battled to the fourth quarter and trailed by four points midway through the period. But a Gray jumper tied the game 49-49 and a massive three-pointer from fourth-year guard Cameron Bett put Queen’s up for the first time since the second quarter. Gray went on two sink two big free throws and add another jumper for a 56-49 lead, helping secure an important 59-55 win.

Queen’s would save its best performance for an upset 86-80 win over the juggernaut Carleton Ravens, OUA champions each of the last three seasons and 12 times overall since 2003. These same Ravens were responsible for two blowout Queen’s losses in the late-season fade. The visitors came out fast and eventually built a 38-35 lead at the half. But the execution was even better in the second half, with Cole Syllas leading the way. The all-star poured in 24 points in the last two quarters alone, making 5-of-9 from long range, to finish the game with an astonishing 39 points. His historic performance included some clutch makes down the stretch. Queen’s faced elimination down eight points with eight minutes left in the game but Syllas buried a three-pointer to give his team life. A Gray triple cut the Ravens’ lead to two, before Luka Syllas and Isaac Krueger made key offensive contributions to keep the game within reach. Gray took over late and sealed the win with another dagger three to extend the Queen’s lead to 83-78, and ultimately knock off the three-time reigning champs for a berth in the championship game.

Brock, ranked No. 4 in U SPORTS, earned the opportunity to host the Wilson Cup final after a near-perfect regular season (14-1) and two decisive playoff wins over the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and McMaster Marauders. The Badgers closed out their schedule with five straight wins, showcasing a scary offence along the way. Brock can flat-out score. The unselfish team led the OUA with 93.1 points per game and 17.3 assists per game, while making 47.4 per cent of their shots (2nd in the conference).

OUA West coach of the year Willy Manigat had a lot of talent at his disposal, including standout fifth-year guard and West most valuable player Tajinder Lall. The psychology major from Cambridge, Ont. finished third in the OUA scoring race with 22.9 PPG, while adding 8.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists a night. Lall was complemented nicely by backcourt mate Kascius Small-Martin, a fourth-year guard and second team all-star, who scored 13.1 PPG in an average of 23.1 minutes of action. That combination was lethal in OUA play.

Once Brock hit the postseason, the desire to host a title game was apparent. The Badgers easily disposed of Laurier, leaning on a big second quarter in an eventual 82-58 West semifinal. Small-Martin and second-year guard Isaiah Bujdoso each scored a team-best 17 points, while Lall flirted with a triple-double scoring 10 points and adding team-highs with nine rebounds and seven assists.

McMaster offered more resistance in the West final but Brock’s commanding 47-29 lead after the first half was too much to overcome. Second-year forward Jordan Tchuente came off the bench to lead the team with 22 points on a near-perfect shooting performance. Tchuente made 8-of-9 shots from the floor and all six of his free throws. Lall was expectedly consistent again, scoring 21 points to go along with seven boards and four assists, which helped the Badgers secure the privilege of hosting the championship game.

On a busy championship weekend at the Brock campus, the Badgers would love to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their lone Wilson Cup win back in the 1991-92 season with another banner. The wait has been much longer for Queen’s, with the school’s only championships coming in 1924 and 1957, respectively. Whichever team is crowned at the end of Saturday’s game, the post-pandemic era marks a time for new kings to sit atop the OUA throne.