Ben Johnson isn’t ready to hang up his Air Jordans.
But for his CIS basketball career to continue, the sharp-shooting Lakehead Thunderwolves guard and his teammates will need to harness their good habits and minimize the bad ones if they want more than a one-and-done disappointment against the McMaster Marauders.
Johnson is one of six Thunderwolves facing their final contest, a group that includes the core of a team that has made three straight trips to nationals.
Yoosrie Salhia, Greg Carter, Joseph Jones, Brendan King and Thunder Bay’s Matt Schmidt are rapidly running out of eligibility, but Johnson said earlier this week they know what they need to do to stay alive and knock off the Marauders (13-8) Saturday night in the OUA semifinal.
They know what’s on the line, and what a bad performance would mean.
“It’s good, because it makes you put everything into practice this week. It kind of makes you enjoy it. It could be the last, so you’re trying to enjoy everything and just really go into and hope that it’s not.”
But with all that’s on the line, the Pictou, N.S. native said they’re really trying not to think too much about the consequences a loss to McMaster, a team they split with last weekend on the road to end the OUA regular season, would bring.
“We’re preparing basically like we would for any opponent. The only thing is, we only have one game and it comes on Saturday. So we’re putting everything into that. And we saw them the week before, so it’s kind of nice to have that familiarity.”
While the Wolves (14-7) lost the finale last Saturday, Lakehead (will present a much different lineup this weekend. LU coach Scott Morrison chose to sit centre Yoosrie Salhia in the meaningless contest, and sixth man Joseph Jones rushed home to Washington, D.C. to deal with a family emergency.
Johnson said neither team wanted to give away too much on Saturday, after the Wolves secured second spot and a first-round bye the night before with a come-from-behind 78-75 win.
“Both teams were kind of not running everything, trying not to show all their cards,” Johnson said. “It was kind of interesting to see the posturing that way. I think it should be an advantage to both sides, I guess.”
Jones said the six seniors are driven to win this weekend, knowing three of the four teams at next weekend’s OUA Final 4 will earn a trip to nationals in Ottawa.
“This is our last shot. We want to get back for sure. We went out last year to Ryerson. It was unexpected. We ended up getting the wild card. But that’s not what we want to happen this year. We don’t want to depend on any of that,” Jones said.
“We want to take care of business and show that was a slip up and it definitely won’t happen again.”
The team is ready, he added.
“We’re hungry. We know what’s at stake and we know what we have to do.”
According to Morrison, first and foremost it means getting off to a strong start. He assumes the unranked Marauders will have an extra burst of energy, coming off an 82-60 win over Waterloo.
“Based on last week, the two big keys are winning the battle of the rebounds. They hurt us on the glass. And we have to keep them off the free-throw line,” Morrison said. “That comes down to slowing down their penetration and transition and trying to force them to take set shots instead of getting to the rim. Those are the two things they really hurt us on last week.”
McMaster guard Adam Presutti averaged 15 points against LU last weekend, while Aaron Redpath came off the bench on Saturday and dropped 20 for the Marauders, the 11th highest-scoring team in the nation.
Game time is 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Thunderdome.
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