As the host school, Lambton College was guaranteed a spot at the Ontario College Athletics Association men’s basketball championship in Sarnia next week.
But after a shaky start, the team is ready to challenge the province’s best on sheer ability alone, its coach says.
After all, the seventh-ranked Lions have faced – and beaten – most of the league’s elite, James Grant said.
“We’re right in the mix. We’ve got a very competitive team this year. It’s coming together right now, for sure,” he said.
“Winning six in a row against Fanshawe, St. Clair, Humber, Sheridan — it’s been quite the run. Probably the best run we’ve ever had since I’ve been coaching here.”
Local basketball fans will have a chance to watch Ontario’s “Elite eight” when Lambton hosts the OCAA championships March 6-8 at the Sarnia campus.
The Lions got off to a slow start this year but came on down the stretch to finish 11-8 in conference play and 25-11 overall.
For the final home game of the year, Lambton ended Humber College’s 13-game win streak with an upset 84-82 victory. That same weekend the Lions knocked off third-ranked Sheridan 117-104.
“It’s the first time in history we beat two big Toronto schools in a weekend like that,” said Grant.
“It’s a pretty exciting place around here right now.”
Lambton won bronze at the OCAAs in 2016 and has missed the playoffs only once in seven years. The Lions also made the finals in all three of their tournament appearances this year.
Star Jason Watts is averaging 17.9 points per game in OCAA play and drained 40 against Sheridan, while rookie guard Kam David is among the league leaders with 5.1 assists per game.
Detroit native Darrius Canty is averaging 12.5 ppg and hasn’t scored less than 14 points in each of the last six.
“He’s rebounding for us. He’s just doing all sorts of things. He just transformed our team’s ability to play,” Grant said.
The other seven teams will be determined this week in elimination matches between the top Eastern and Western conference schools.
Grant expects big crowds all weekend at Lambton’s 1,241-seat, $41-million Athletics and Fitness Complex, which opened in late 2018.
“We get the biggest crowds in the province. We get more people out to games than any other school,” he said.
The tournament winner will represent Ontario at the Canadian national men’s basketball championships.
For tournament schedule and tickets, visit lclions.ca.