Brandon puts on best hardcourt show in 15 years

Bobcats men’s basketball year-end report


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You can call two wins to 12 a sudden turnaround.

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You can call two wins to 12 a sudden turnaround.

Gil Cheung sees it differently.

“I really felt throughout the year that if we had successes that the guys deserved it,” Cheung said after his best season as the Brandon University men’s basketball coach.

“There aren’t any players in the country that shoot the ball more than Jahmaal (Gardner), Eli (Ampofo), Anthony (Tsegakele) or Sultan (Bhatti). They live in the gym and it was great to see their hard work translate into wins.

“A lot of times, that doesn’t happen. Guess what? Last year, Jahmaal shot the ball just as much. Eli shot the ball just as much. It doesn’t mean they put in more work this year or were working harder, they just got things going in the right direction and hats off to them. They deserved it. It was great having some buzz around here.”

The Bobcats went 12-8 and entered the Canada West playoffs as the No. 6 seed. They dropped the Fraser Valley Cascades in the first round before losing a triple-overtime heartbreaker 87-84 to the host Winnipeg Wesmen.

Winnipeg (15-5) then earned its first trip to nationals in 29 years by beating the 18-2 Manitoba Bisons.

From the Canada West basement to a legitimate shot at the U Sports championship stage, we continue our Bobcats’ year-end reports with the most exciting ticket in town.


Brandon answered an opening-night loss with an electric offensive night, shooting 59 per cent from three-point range to beat Regina 109-75.

That sparked a seven-game win streak, aided by Gardner’s game-winning three over UBC Okanagan and a 19-point comeback to complete a weekend sweep of Saskatchewan.

Brandon swept Lethbridge at home as well, and at one point sat atop the Canada West standings.

Then came the ultra-tough middle stretch when BU played four of the top five teams in the conference. It lost both to Winnipeg, split UBC, then suffered two narrow losses to Manitoba and a pair of brutal blowouts at Alberta.

“You have to trust the guys on the court because you can get real fragile. All of a sudden you’ve lost three in a row, three of four, whatever it may be,” Cheung said. “You have to tell the guys ‘nothing changes. You are who you are, not all of a sudden Space Jam, you lost all your superpowers. We’re still a really good team.’”

The Bobcats responded with a pair of wins at Mount Royal to clinch their playoff spot, then swept the University of Northern British Columbia at home to close the regular season with their best record since 2008.

They did it with a 90-point-per-game offence and just marginally better defence (87 ppg).


Brandon stayed true to its high-flying, free-wheeling offence in the first round of the playoffs, going 22-for-45 from three-point range in a game both teams picked their (rare) moments to play defence.

BU led by 25 before UFV cut it to three. After a timeout, Elisha Ampofo drew a massive charge and hit a three to stifle the comeback.

“The biggest thing with guys you’ve been around for four, three years, is you don’t panic,” Cheung said. “You’re uncomfortable but you don’t panic. We had so many close games and so many of those experiences that we didn’t call timeout. We just let the guys figure it out.

“They’ve been in those positions and we’ve developed the trust between the staff and players to let them figure it out.”

The turning point of their quarterfinal may have been late in the UFV game when Gardner hit the ground hard and injured his back. He tried to play through it against Winnipeg but was a shell of himself.

Still, Tsegakele, who was named a first-team all-star and the Canada West defensive player of the year, delivered an outstanding performance with 27 points and 18 rebounds. He hit a clutch one-legged three to force a second overtime and almost won it at the buzzer in that period.

Ampofo fouled out and a short bench ran out of gas, letting a narrow lead slide before Donald Stewart nailed the winning trey with 0.1 seconds on the clock.

“Back-to-back nights, we’re on the road, some guys played 50 minutes. We were just trying to make sure we had the legs for that last two minutes,” Cheung said.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t like we messed it up … both teams made plays and they made one more than we did.

“Anthony was great, he made plays on both ends of the court. There’s no excuses but Jahmaal’s our closer … I really think he’s the best scoring guard in the country, think about how many times you see him put guys on skates … We did not anticipate not having him at all.”


Gardner got a running mate from his home state of New York. Ojeda-Harvey transferred after being named a National Junior College Athletic Association Division 3 all-American.

Gardner posted 20.4 ppg while Ojeda-Harvey had 14.1 with a team-high 4.5 assists.

More importantly, they provided ball security as BU committed just 15.2 turnovers per game, second to conference champion Victoria (14).

Ampofo chipped in 9.6 ppg off the bench while Dominique Dennis had a down year due to Ojeda-Harvey taking the starting point guard job but came on strong at the end of the season, averaging more than eight ppg in the last four games.

Cheung liked the group’s versatility to create offence with or without the ball.

Up front, Tsegakele recorded 20.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. Six-foot-seven Australian forward Jack McDonald made his job easier as another body in the paint while also stretching the floor with a terrific 43.3 three-point percentage.

Bhatti followed his all-rookie-team showing in 2021-22 by joining Ampofo and Ojeda-Harvey as the country’s three top shooters from beyond the arc, all over 44 per cent.

Including the playoffs, Brandon led Canada West in threes made (253), attempted (647) and percentage (39.1). That allowed them to play without a true big man most of the time.

“That’s who we wanted to be and that’s who we were,” Cheung said. “When you look around the league, there isn’t a ton of teams that have that big rim protector … even (Simon) Hildebrandt at U of M’s more of a stretch 4, 5 than he is in the post. That’s the way the game’s moving.

“It wasn’t forced. It was genuinely swing, swing, we had good shots. Some nights they wouldn’t go down but more often than not we shot the ball well, had good opportunities. I still think Sultan’s the best shooter in the country.”


The Bobcats didn’t have any fifth-years this year. McDonald and Gardner were the only fourth-years while the bulk of the group has two years remaining.

They were realistically a year or two away from their peak and this exact team a year older is almost surely better than 12-8, possibly good enough to reach the Final 8.

Most should return, though Gardner is the biggest question mark as he’s set to finish his courses this spring.

Cheung told the Sun he has three new players committed pending necessary paperwork.

Whatever happens, he’ll remember 2022-23 fondly.

“For this group to go from two wins to 12 is unheard of,” Cheung said.

“A lot of credit goes to our guys and … a lot of credit goes to our assistant coaches. I love those guys to death, the amount of time they put into their full-time jobs and amount of time they give to our program … is something I’ll always be grateful for. We just hope to run it back and get a couple of games further next season.”


» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen

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