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Louis Gauthier (Ottawa): 18 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks
Venzal Russell (Lakehead): 17 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
HAMILTON, ON – Lakehead redeemed itself just in time to advance to the Wilson Cup final after a thrilling 71-69 win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
“I can’t really complain right now,” said Lakehead head coach Scott Morrison after the victory.
After having led most of the game by double-digits, the Thunderwolves found themselves in a dogfight in the fourth quarter, even falling behind with only 30 seconds left to play. The team turned to its trademark strong defensive play and Venzal Russell, a native of Detroit, Michigan, scored the winning basket.
The atmosphere was tense in the Burridge Gymnasium as Russell pulled-up for the shot. “I just prayed like hell it would go in,” said third-year Lakehead guard Greg Carter. “He shoots a high percentage on his pull-ups, but I still prayed it would.”
It did, and the Lakehead players erupted in joy.
Russell said that as he took the shot, “I just thought about all the preparation this week in practice, (that make you) ready for late-game situations and I knocked it down.”
Ottawa head coach James Derouin told his players he was proud of them. “Nobody expected us to be here and (this game) showed the true character of this team to come back from a big (Lakehead) lead.”
Second-year player Jacob Gibson-Bascombe echoed his coach’s thoughts and told NPH that, “It was a tough loss, but it was a good game at least. That’s all I can ask for.”
Early on, Lakehead seemed ready to run away with the game, closing the first quarter on a 12-2 run to lead 22-12 at the end of the period. The Lakehead players continued their strong play from there, dominating the second quarter as well on their way to a 42-29 lead at halftime.
“I hoped they weren’t going to continue to shoot that way (in the second half),” said Derouin, whose team opened with much more energy in the third quarter.
Perhaps because of a little complacency from Lakehead, the Gee-Gees cut into the lead, but the Thunderwolves had an answer for every run Ottawa made. And after a shot to beat the third-quarter buzzer from Carter, Lakehead led 63-53 after three quarters.
To open the fourth quarter, both teams missed many shots.
With OUA West defensive player of the year Greg Carter on the bench for Lakehead, Ottawa scored eight unanswered runs to pull to within 63-61 of Lakehead. Ottawa even took their first lead at 65-64 on a three-point basket from fifth-year Louis Gauthier with just over 2 minutes remaining in the game. At that point, the Thunderwolves were in a funk for the ages, having scored only 1 point in the fourth quarter.
“Next time we do get cold like this, we need to remember ourselves of how many (repetitions) we have taken this year,” said Morrison. “We should take a deep breath, regroup and relax.”
Lakehead would finish with eight points in the fourth quarter, the last two on the jumper from Russell. A desperate heave from fifth-year Gee-Gee Nemanja Baletic would be partially blocked by Greg Carter to secure the Lakehead win.
Ryan Malcolm-Campbell, a second-year player for Ottawa, said that the loss was tough. “We had dug ourselves too big of a hole to crawl out of and had to play that much better just to come back in the game.”
Louis Gauthier poured in a game-high 18 points; Baletic (14), Warren Ward (10) and Christopher Anderson (10) also managed to score in double-figures for Ottawa. The Thunderwolves were led from player of the game Russell (17), but had key contributions from Yoosrie Salhia (13 points, 10 rebounds) and Ben Johnson (12) on a night where team leader Jamie Searle only chipped in 2 points.
His two points, however, were key as they came from the charity stripe with Lakehead trailing 69-67 and only 19 seconds left to play.
“That’s what your leader does,” said Carter. “I had no doubt in my mind that he would make those shots.”
Morrison was proud of Searle who, despite having what the coach said was “a poor game,” still made two key plays by hitting the free throws and getting a steal in the ensuing Ottawa possession. “That’s a good lesson for anybody, that even when things aren’t going your way you can still make an impact that counts.”
The Thunderwolves will face off against the NPH #1-ranked Carleton Ravens, whom they lost to 75-49 on Nov. 27, 2010. No doubt that Lakehead hopes to avoid that same fate in the Wilson Cup final. The contest will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. on The Score Network.