EDMONTON – For large portions of Saturday's contest, the MacEwan Griffins men's basketball team played neck and neck with U SPORTS No. 2 Alberta.
Of course, there were hiccups, turnovers and missed shots – inevitable happenings for a young team – that prevented the home side from taking anything more than a moral victory out of a 96-69 defeat in Canada West play.
But head coach Mike Connolly was largely left impressed with his band of warriors, just 10-men deep due to injuries.
"The last three minutes, it got away from us, but we scored, too," he said. "That's OK. I'm not down. I actually think we turned a corner this weekend. We got better. That's all we ask for."
That was the goal, after all, for a team more focused on the process in this stage of their development, even if the Griffins are still left searching for their first win of the season, falling to 0-8, while the Golden Bears are now 8-0.
"I would say for three quarters of the game, we played solid," said Connolly. "At the end, we lost some guys and gave up some easy ones. But that was the difference (early) – we didn't give them easy ones. We slowed them down. We can play 5-on-5 defence. It's when we're sleeping or don't find guys, then we have issues because that's a lack of maturity.
"We get into a situation where we lose guys and then we become reactive," he added. "I thought tonight, we made them react to us. It's another growth, it's another step. This is a process."
Former Griffin Abdullah Shittu led the Golden Bears with 14 points, while the visitors' depth was on full display as, for a second-straight night, multiple players were in double digits. Lars Ishimwe had 13, Tyus Jefferson 12 and Adam Paige 11. The latter narrowly missed a double double, adding nine rebounds.
"The thing that he did besides the scoring is he rebounded," said Connolly of Osuma, who had seven boards. "And what he did is he helped. He cut off all their penetration on ball screens. He protected the rim. He had some blocks, too. His defence and his effort were huge.
"As a first-year kid, he's just realizing it. He didn't play many minutes the first term, now he's starting to figure it out."
Next up for the Griffins is a road trip to Calgary to visit the Dinos on Jan. 28-29.