If you’d told Matt Erdman before the season his team would host a playoff game in 2014, he had gladly accepted.
On Wednesday night, however, he wanted more. And the Lakehead Thunderwolves interim coach nearly got what he wished for – had the buzzer sounded 38 minutes in.
But alas, college basketball games last 40 minutes, and it was those final two minutes that proved to be LU’s undoing.
Quinn Henderson hit a clutch three-pointer in the final minute of regulation, taking advantage of poor ball control by the host Thunderwolves and carried the Western Mustangs to a come-from-behind 68-65 triumph, eliminating Lakehead from the OUA post-season in a one-and-done affair.
Henry Tan, the Wolves promising rookie guard, came up well short on a three-pointer in the final five seconds, then after Peter Scholtes hit a pair of free throws, Lakehead’s Dwayne Harvey had a desperation attempt from just beyond half court bounce off the rim as the buzzer sounded.
It was a disappointing end to a tough season, the Wolves coming off four straight trips to nationals, including a spot in last year’s championship game.
“Dwayne (Harvey) got in early foul trouble and he’s the key to our offence really. He sets guys up, he gets into the paint and it kind of took us out of rhythm a bit. But a couple of guys coming off the bench stepped up and we were playing to them. We just let it go at the end,” said first-year guard Jamar Coke, who finished with a game-high 15 points that included three three-pointers.
At one point midway through the third quarter the Wolves were up by 10, leading 50-40 on an Igor Lebov completion of a Harvey pass that finished a 12-0 Lakehead run.
But the Mustangs, who lost four straight down the stretch to fall out of the fourth playoff spot, handing Lakehead the right to host the OUA West playoff opener, quickly caught back up, scoring six straight of their own and the home team had to settle for a 55-50 lead after three quarters.
After Western climbed to within one in the fourth, Coke hit his third and final trey of the night to push the lead back to six.
But Western’s Greg Morrow responded with a driving dunk, a message that the Mustangs weren’t ready to give up just yet.
Down five again, George Johnson completed a three-point play on the charity stripe to cut the Lakehead lead to two. Anthony McIntosh had a great opportunity underneath the Western net to make it a two-possession game again, with under a minute to play, but didn’t get the roll, turning the ball over at an untimely moment.
“That’s one thing we’ve been focusing all year is transition and finding guys, and (Henderson) is one of the guys we talked about befor the game and we just couldn’t find him and he knocked down a big shot,” Coke said.
Erdman said it wasn’t any one thing that cost them the game and the right to face McMaster on Saturday in Round 2 of the playoffs.
“I think we had some decent looks. Dwayne missed a close one there. We weren’t sure who was going to take the transition basket between Jamar and Dwayne and we turned it over,” Erdman said. “I think the guys tried to do the right thing. I think just sometimes they over-tried.”
Disappointed, Erdman said despite the 9-13 record, there were plenty of positives the team can take from the season.
“I don’t think there were any realistic expectations over this group with the turnover we had. I’m really, really proud of these guys.”
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