Jefferson Hagen, MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – All of the effort, grit, intensity, elbow grease and hustle that was missing from their game a night earlier returned in spades as the MacEwan Griffins pushed the Winnipeg Wesmen to the limit before falling 85-78 in Canada West men's basketball action on Saturday.
Although a loss is a loss, the Griffins went down fighting on Saturday, in stark contrast to a humbling 113-75 defeat to Winnipeg a night earlier that saw the visitors set a program record for points in a game.
"I know I challenged them, but the thing about this group of guys that I can really respect is they challenged themselves," said MacEwan head coach Eric Magdanz. "They came in and knew right off the bat that last night wasn't good enough.
"From us as a coaching staff, it was showing them a couple of things they could correct. But they knew their effort, energy and compete level had to be better. They took it upon themselves to do that."
Ultimately, though, the Wesmen had just a little bit more and prevented the Griffins (0-6) from netting their first win of the season, putting a weekend sweep in the books to move to 4-2 in the standings.
"I think first and foremost, credit to those guys," said Winnipeg head coach Mike Raimbault. "They slowed us down tonight and made the game a bit of a different pace, which I think was in their favour.
"They did a lot of things that were challenging for us. So, give them a lot of credit for coming back after a tough one yesterday and being right there today.
"I'm definitely proud of the way we responded when we weren't scoring, having to manufacture some points and rely on our defence a bit."
Offensively, the Wesmen employed a pretty big difference-maker, though, as third-year forward Narcisse Ambanza produced 31 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two steals.
"He's obviously a catalyst for us and he's definitely a leader – a guy we look to to set the tone for how we want to play," said Raimbault. "There were times where we were struggling and didn't have anything going and he bailed us out of a lot of possessions tonight."
Ambanza seemed to be everywhere for the Wesmen, taking a third of their shots and grabbing eight offensive boards to lead Winnipeg's dominance of second chance points (32-6). Spas Nikolov also had a double-double for the visitors with 17 points and 10 boards, while Joseph Medrano scored 14.
The Wesmen got off to a hot start in the contest, opening up a 21-6 lead through the first seven minutes.
Rather than a 'here we go again' refrain emanating from the Griffins' bench, though, they put their work boots on. Going on an 18-7 run from the midway point of the second quarter, they got within one at half-time (38-37).
"I think we switched up a couple lineups for them," said Magdanz. "A guy like Luke Harold comes in and, after playing limited minutes, he comes in with a big shot to start it off. Then you look at a guy like Abdullah Shittu who comes in off the bench and gets 15 points and 13 rebounds and plays a variety of positions. He played anywhere from the 3 to the 5 tonight.
"When you have guys that are willing to come and accept any role and just complement the team, it's a good place to start."
Shittu not only led the Griffins with a double-double, but with two more blocks, he added to his Canada West-leading total (16) so far this season. Deonte Doslov-Doctor chipped in 10 points and Jake Notice was the leading man for the Griffins on Saturday. A night after being held to nine points, MacEwan's top scorer bucketed 25, a total that included four treys.
One of those came with just 35 seconds left – a running three that pulled the Griffins within four. But Winnipeg's William Sesay followed up a miss by getting his own rebound. From there, MacEwan had a string of misses and ran out of time.
"Credit to them," said Magdanz. "They hit some shots down the stretch when they needed to, and we didn't necessarily. I can't fault our guys for their level of effort and their level of intensity right from the start in this game.
"We'll just try to make those final corrections and get a win next weekend."
Next up for the Griffins is a pair of home games against UFV on Nov. 16-17. Winnipeg returns home to host Saskatchewan on the same nights.