The Tigers lost key starters William Yengue and Hassan Abdullahi, and long-time coach John Campbell packed his bags for the University of Toronto.
In came new head coach Rick Plato, who finally got his shot in the AUS after 25 years at Mount Saint Vincent University. Revered by many throughout Atlantic Canada as a tough, defensive-minded coach who knew how to win, there was a great amount of hope that Plato could lead the Tigers program to victory.
The start has been anything but smooth however, and the team has stumbled to a 2-7 record, yet they only sit two points out of a playoff spot.
Their weak record is certainly not indicative of the team’s play. They’ve been outscored by an average of 0.9 points per game and four of their seven losses were by three or fewer points.
There isn’t a lack of talent on the team. Kashrell Lawrence and Devon Stedman are both in the top ten in AUS scoring, with 17.6 and 15.2ppg respectively. Ritchie Kanza Mata is back manning the point for the Tigers, while Simon Marr and Jarred Reid have provided solid offensive production all year. John Traboulsi has provided a lethal shooting punch off the bench and Derek Norris has been consistent while manning the point.
So what is it?
The team has found themselves fighting an uphill battle often times this year, and they have been down six out of nine games after the first half. Interestingly, the Tigers have outscored their opponents five out of nine times in the second half.
The offense has seemed anemic at times and there have been many times where the offense seemingly has only one option, and it takes until the last few seconds of the shot clock to get a clean look.
The Tigers have shot an AUS-low 10.6 attempts from deep, despite shooting 32.4%, good for fourth in the AUS. They’ve also been outmuscled on the glass, only posting 36.4 rebounds per game, which is good for seventh in the AUS.
If the Tigers make the playoffs, they will need to play a full 40 minutes each and every game. Star forward Kashrell Lawrence admits that there have been games that the team just seems to lose focus. “We’ll play great for the whole game and lose focus late within the last four minutes and it’ll cost us.”
He says that there have been lots of heartbreakers so far this season, but it doesn’t mean the team is going to stray from their goal, “We’re all optimistic in the New Year, it’s just like a year-long course. We just have to work hard.”
The team has proven this year that they can beat anyone in the league with wins against UNB and Acadia, who sit first and second in the AUS respectively.
Rick Plato has learned that no win comes easy in the ultra-competitive AUS. If he is to make a legacy this year in his first season as head coach, he will need to turn things around sooner than later, as the clock is ticking down on the AUS playoff chase.
There is hope for the Tigers as their eleven remaining games are played against teams with a combined winning percentage of .465, and they will host last-place Memorial in two huge four-point games at home.
Don’t count them out yet, folks. The best is yet to come.
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