Coach Serresse focused on improvement after dropping opening games against nationally-ranked Badgers

Following an undefeated pre-season and a Naismith Classic championship over the past two weeks of exhibition play, the Golden Hawks men’s basketball program came out flat in their opening two regular-season matchups against the Brock Badgers. 

The Golden Hawks suffered a 98-77 loss on Wednesday night as they tipped off their season in St. Catharines, looking like a shell of themselves. The story remained much the same on Saturday night, as Laurier returned to their home court for the first time in 638 days, dropping their second consecutive game to begin the unique Ontario University Athletics (OUA) season. 

Balanced scoring and tenacious defense by the fifth-ranked Badgers plummeted Laurier to an 0-2 start, sweeping the season series following a 95-74 victory on Saturday. 

“We’re only two games into the season. We can’t overreact and blow things out of proportion,” Coach Justin Serresse said. 

“We’re just shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit too much,” he continued. 

After back-to-back OUA semi-final appearances, Coach Serresse and the Laurier men’s basketball program entered the 2021 season with championship aspirations. Laurier’s last meaningful game prior to last week featured a heartbreaking 104-103 overtime loss against the Western Mustangs in the 2019-20 semi-finals. 

Given so much time between that contest and the start of this season, the Golden Hawks roster will feature a far different makeup this year. Key players such as team MVP, Kemel Archer, point forward, Ntore Habimana and guard, Matt Minutillo, among others, graduated from the men’s basketball program over the past two years. 

With the addition of two new recruiting classes, Coach Serresse and the Golden Hawks will rely on a mix of veterans and fresh faces to generate production this season and bring the Golden Hawks to their goal of an OUA final and appearance at nationals.  

Given the ongoing pandemic, the OUA focused their schedule on regional travel this year and crafted a reduced 16-game schedule, featuring back-to-back contests throughout most of the season. Laurier will compete in the OUA west division, with the likes of Waterloo, Western and Brock, among others, playing each of their division rivals twice throughout the season. 

Coach Serresse who is entering his sixth season as men’s basketball head coach has always set his goal on a provincial final. After the cancellation of all OUA sports last year and Laurier’s inability to train five-on-five until as recently as last month, Serresse was emphatic about the opportunity to be back on the court.  

Asked about being back in the Athletic Complex gym and competing with his team, Serresse said he was “one hundred per cent,” excited and took in the join of having his family, friends and the greater community in attendance to cheer on his Golden Hawks basketball program this past weekend. 

Serresse had the excellent opportunity this past summer to work as an assistant coach with the under-19 Canadian national team in Latvia. His staff led Canada to a bronze medal finish this past July at the FIBA U19 World Cup. 

Laurier began their season with a poor performance last Wednesday night, shooting only 38 per cent from the field, while allowing the Badgers to score 98 points on 57 per cent shooting. The Badgers had five players in double-digits, while out-rebounding Laurier 45-27 that night and leading by 29 after the third quarter. 

While fourth-year guard, Romello Taylor scored a career-high 19 points and superstar guard Ali Sow scored 30, the Golden Hawks could not generate much else as a team. Outside of Taylor and Sow, the Golden Hawks made only nine of 40 shots, with rookies KJ Masella and Kitchener native, Ethan Passley struggling with their shot.  

“Brock did a great job of taking [our offense] away. We can’t let Ali and Romello carry the load offensively all the time,” Coach Serresse said. 

Saturday’s home opener offered a similar defeat for Laurier as the Badgers had four players over double digits, while Sow and Taylor accounted for over half of Laurier’s total points once again. 

On the strength of TJ Lall’s game-high 31 points, Brock buried the Golden Hawks to start their season 2-0 and plummet the Golden Hawks to an 0-2 record. While the Golden Hawks outscored Brock 67-63 the rest of the way, the Badgers never gave up their lead after a 28-3 run in the first quarter which put them up 32-7 at the end of the opening frame. 

Two-time CEBL draft pick, team leader, USPORTS All-Canadian, Laurier president’s award winner and two-time OUA all-star; Sow was able to record 30-point games in both contests, however, struggled with his efficiency. The bigger issue may be the fact that the Golden Hawks failed to find scoring outside of their star guard in their first two games. 

The Golden Hawks saw production from Benhur Gebrekidan who has made six three-pointers in his first two OUA game’s – leading the team – while Masella and Passley remained cold in the second game of the home-and-home.  

With the two defeats, Laurier has now lost 12 straight games against the Badgers, having last beat them in February of 2014, before Coach Serresse’s tenure. 

“The adjustment we made from game one to game two was pretty solid. We saw some improvements,” Coach Serresse said. 

“Overall, our rebounding was better, our ball movement was better, and we got to the free-throw line way more,” he continued.

Serresse is focused on improvement as well as some positives in the second game after a tough start to the season. He also takes blame for some of the struggles in the first quarter of the home opener. 

“We need to be ready from the first quarter and not get caught off guard… that’s probably on me, I should have emphasized that a little bit more,” Serresse said. 

The Golden Hawks will have next week off before returning to their home court for two games against the Lakehead Thunderwolves next weekend. The Thunderwolves split their first two games against McMaster.  

“We got to re-group, get some rest and look at ourselves first,” Coach Serresse said. “Address what we need to be better at and next week we will focus on Lakehead, who is a very good team,” he continued. The Golden Hawks will look for their first win of the season, when they return to the court on Nov. 19, hosting the Thunderwolves.

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