THUNDER BAY — The defence looked like it was in mid-season form — and eventually the shooting caught up.
The Lakehead Thunderwolves forced 23 turnovers on Friday afternoon against the visiting Algoma Thunderbirds, and though they didn’t quite hit the metrics coach Ryan Thomson was seeking — and plans to seek all season long — it was easily enough to power the home side to a 93-58 win in front of swath of orange-shirted school kids at the C.J. Sanders Fieldhouse.
Laoui Msambya put up 22 points to lead the T-Wolves, collecting five rebounds, dishing out five assists and making three steal, and fifth-year guard Jared Kreiner was a long-distance powerhouse, hitting five of 10 three-pointers en route to an 18-point game in Lakehead pre-season debut.
“It was our first game back, so we all had a lot of energy. The team played really great. We were moving the ball a lot. Laoui found me a couple of times and Chris (Sagl) did too. We were just getting our groove together and hopefully we’ll carry that on throughout the regular season,” said Kreiner, a product of the dynastic St. Ignatius Falcons basketball program.
It was a good first showing for a team looking to prove it wasn’t a one-hit wonder, flirting with the national top 5 last season, but minus some of the key ingredients on that upstart squad, including OUA all-star Michael Okafor, power forward Dylan Morrison and long-time dynamo guard Alston Harris.
“I feel like as a team first, we played good,” said Msambya, who boasts past experience in the Canadian Elite Basketball League on his playing resume.
“It was a slow start, but after the second quarter, we regrouped, talked to each other and played good as a team.”
Lakehead jumped out to an 11-2 lead and were up by as many as 13 in the first quarter, spreading the scoring around the lineup.
In the second, it was Chris Sagl and Harold Santacruz, both expected to take on bigger roles with the Thunderwolves in 2023-24, who carried the offensive load. Sagl posted seven points in the period and Santacruz, who struggled at first at the free-throw line, wound up with 10 in the quarter, the two teams scoring 18 points apiece to hit the halftime break in a 43-32 contest, Lakehead leading all the way.
They turned up the defensive effort after the half, Sagl seemingly getting in the way of every attempted Algoma pass, interrupting the Thunderbirds offensive flow while creating plenty of chances for his own side.
Its what Thompson’s looking for this season, knowing the Thunderwolves might not have the same firepower they boasted last season, a campaign that ended in a first-round disappointment instead of a hoped-for berth at the Final 8.
“One of the things that were tracking this season as a staff and a team is our contest rate,” Thomson said. “For us in the first half, we only contested 51 per cent of their shots in the half-court. For us, we want that contest number to be closer to 75. We didn’t quite meet our goal for the full game, but it (became apparent) in the second half that if we are going to be able to defend at a high level and contest, we’re going to be able to run out and be at our best in transition.”
Sagl put up a dozen for LU and newcomer Josh Strongman, a British Columbia native who spent last season playing professionally in Spain, hit double digits in his debut in a Thunderwolves uniform, putting up an even 10, adding a pair of assists in 16 minutes of court time.
Taleh Wade led Algoma with 11 points, while Riley Rathwell and Oscar Wiseman had eight apiece. The two teams match up again on Saturday at noon.