There was hope for the Laurentian Voyageurs men's basketball team, heading into their Saturday afternoon qyuarter-final battle with the Western Mustangs.
And then there was none.
Twice earlier this year, the L.U. lads had vanquished the 'Stangs, 80-74 in tournament play and 84-70, roughly six weeks later, early in the 2019-2020 schedule. Both of those encounters, however, were hosted at the Ben Avery Gym, with the playoff match-up set for London.
Still, an impressive 94-66 first round playoff win over the Windsor Lancers certainly suggested that the Voyageurs were ready to roll. And for most of this game, they were.
Trailing 24-22 after a quarter of play, Laurentian secured a 47-42 lead by the half, with Western cutting into it, only slightly (61-58) as the teams prepared for the final ten minutes of play.
A key 9-0 fourth quarter run by the hometown Western crew, led by Omar Shiddo (41 pts), would help the Mustangs build up an 11-point advantage with under three minutes to play. And though the Voyageurs would trim the deficit to just a single point in the final minute, a road victory was not to be as coach Shawn Swords and company dropped an 88-82 decision to Western.
"This year, more than almost any other uear, there's a lot of parity in the league," noted Swords, a day or two prior to the start of post-season play. "It's not like there's an easy game that you're going to play in the OUA, when it comes to the playoffs."
Joining Shiddo atop the Mustangs offensive charts were Aaron Tennant (13), Eriq Jenkins (12) and Julian Walker (12), as Western starters accounted for all but four of the 88 points their team would score.
Matching his counterpart almost bucket for bucket, L.U. veteran Kadre Gray finished with 39 points, in what could well be his final university game, though he does still have one year of eligibility remaining.
Gaetan Chamand also hit double digits for Laurentian, netting 13 points, with Jospeh Hlady chipping in with nine. Though Western would enter the contest coming off a first round bye, the visitors from the north had countered, jumping out to a huge lead against Windsor, with no player seeing more than 27 minutes of action.
In a playoff game that would see no less than 12 different players score for the blue and gold, Gray (19), Hlady (19), Sam Ivey (11) and Haroun Mohamed (11) would pace the attack for the winners.