THUNDER BAY – The playoff party will have to wait a few more days – and it’s not so cut and dried as it was before the weekend began.
The Lakehead Thunderwolves men’s basketball team opened up a 14-point first-half lead over the visiting No. 9-ranked Ontario Tech Ridgebacks on Saturday night, but couldn’t hold on in the second half and dropped a second straight contest, falling 85-79 in front of about 1,000 fans at the Thunderdome.
At the same time the Waterloo Warriors, who have to win their final four games and hope Lakehead doesn’t pick up a single win over the final two weekends of the regular season, got the second of those wins on Saturday night, edging Windsor 73-68 in overtime.
The Wolves are 9-11 and hold the tiebreaker over Waterloo, who are just a game back at 8-12.
It’s getting tight, said LU’s Tyler Sagl, who took a pounding at both ends of the court, but still managed to put up 23 for the Thunderwolves, leading his team in scoring.
“It was definitely a tough game. Everyone worked their butts off. But we still have two big games coming up next weekend against McMaster, which is big for us. I think we’re just going to start focusing on Monday and just get right to it.”
Lakehead coach Ryan Thomson pointed to two key areas that likely led to the loss – too many turnovers and too many fouls.
The Ridgebacks went to the line 11 times in the fourth quarter alone.
“I pointed out to our guys, we had 17 turnovers and we put them on the line 29 times. Every game we talk about valuing possessions. Limiting them to under 20 free-throw attempts, and those two things combined, it’s tough to get wins that way.”
The streaky T-Wolves looked like the better team for most of the opening half, playing tough D and rewarding themselves by making their shots.
Nathan Bilamu drained a three-pointer midway through the first that opened a 14-5 lead, then added a second straight bucket to up the advantage to 11. A Sagl three early in the second, part of a 6-0 run that spanned the first and second quarters, made it 33-19, but the T-Wolves struggled to contain the Ridgebacks Keon Baker, who scored eight points in the final six minutes of the second to close the gap to 44-37 at the half.
Lakehead were outscored 22-16 in the third, but still managed to hold a one-point lead after 30 minutes.
The teams traded the lead on three straight possessions early in the fourth, Zubair Seyed putting up a deep three over an LU defender to make it 68-67. Lakehead took the lead one last time on a Sagl two-pointer, but Seyed scored off a Harold Santacruz turnover to give the Ridgebacks a 71-69 lead. The Wolves twice tied the game, but a thunderous two-handed Baker dunk put Ontario Tech in front for good. Seyed, who had 18 on the night, was fouled on a three-point attempt, hit all three free throws and Lakeehead never got within three the rest of the way.
Baker led all scorers with 26 points, grabbing nine rebounds and four steals. Bilamu had 15 for Lakehead and Chris Sagl put up 13.
The T-Wolves can clinch with a win against McMaster (11-9) on Friday or Saturday night, or a Waterloo loss. The Warriors play Western (14-6) on Wednesday night and Toronto (12-7) on Saturday.
Court shots: The Thunderwolves honoured departing seniors Jared Kreiner and Chume Nwgwe at a senior night ceremony between the men’s and women’s games. Nwgwe had nine points, while Kreiner was held off the score sheet.